WWF claims ocean wealth is sinking fast

Boys in boat, Mozambique_copyrightWWF US_James Morgan

The ocean would be the 7th largest economy if it was a country, claims WWF

Photo credit: WWF-US / James Morgan

The world’s ocean is at greater risk now than at any other time in recorded history as its resources rapidly erode and move towards collapse despite its value – at least US$24 trillion (£15.9 trillion) – rivalling the size of the world’s top 10 economies

These startling claims have been made in a new report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), titled ‘Reviving the Ocean Economy: The case for action – 2015’, which calls for an immediate government response.

“We are pulling out too many fish, dumping in too many pollutants, and warming and acidifying the ocean to a point that essential natural systems will simply stop functioning,” points out Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, the report’s lead author and director of the Global Change Institute in Australia’s University of Queensland.

From a UK perspective, head of UK marine policy at WWF-UK, Lyndsey Dodds, says the government must recognise the value of the seas and ensure their protection, starting with swift designation of the next tranche of Marine Conservation Zones.

“These zones – along with other measures – such as improved fisheries management – are essential to safeguard the marine assets that underpin the UK economy,” she explains.

The ocean would be the 7th largest economy if it was a country
70% of the annual value of the ocean depends on healthy assets
Many of the assets that provide the ocean’s great value are in sharp decline

Research presented in the report demonstrates that the ocean is changing more rapidly than at any other point in millions of years. At the same time, it says growth in human population and reliance on the sea makes restoring the ocean economy and its core assets a matter of global urgency.

If the ocean was a country, WWF claims it would rank the seventh-largest global economy, with an annual value of goods and services worth US$2.5 trillion (£1.7 trillion) – just behind the UK. As such, the NGO says neglecting this asset could in some ways be likened to not investing in a fund that yielded a 10% return.

“Our oceans are a climate regulator and carbon sink, supporting future global economic growth, as well as providing critical goods and services that underpin the well being of billions of people,” explains David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK. “But rising temperatures and increased acidification put all this at risk.

“We should recognise the role our oceans play as an important business asset that requires sustainable management and investment – and governments should fully support and implement the UN Sustainable Development Goal on the ocean.”

The report, produced in association with The Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland and The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), reveals that more than two-thirds of the annual value of the ocean relies on healthy conditions to maintain its annual economic output. Collapsing fisheries, mangrove deforestation as well as disappearing corals and seagrass are threatening the marine economic engine that secures lives and livelihoods around the world.

“Being able to quantify both the annual and asset value of the world’s oceans shows us what’s at stake in hard numbers; economically and environmentally,” says Douglas Beal, partner and managing director at  BCG. “We hope this serves as a call for business leaders and policymakers to make wiser, more calculated decisions when it comes to shaping the future of our collective ocean economy.”

With over-exploitation, misuse and climate change unrelenting, WWF has called for three essential actions to be taken by governments in 2015:

  1. Embedding ocean recovery throughout the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
  2. Taking global action on climate change.
  3. Making good on strong commitments to deliver well-managed coastal and marine protected areas.

Principal threats

Climate change is a leading cause of the ocean’s failing health, says the report. Research showed that at the current rate of warming, coral reefs that provide food, jobs and storm protection to several hundred million people will disappear completely by 2050. More than just warming waters, climate change is inducing increased ocean acidity that will take hundreds of human generations for the oceans to repair.

Over-exploitation is another major cause for the ocean’s decline, WWF says, with 90% of global fish stocks either over-exploited or fully exploited. The Pacific bluefin tuna population alone has dropped by 96% from unfished levels.

WWF says it’s not too late to reverse the troubling trends and ensure a healthy ocean that benefits people, business and nature. Its report Reviving the Ocean Economy presents an eight-point action plan that would restore ocean resources to their full potential.

WWF is working with governments, businesses and communities to encourage leaders to take urgent measures to revive the ocean economy and protect the lives and livelihoods of billions of people around the world. Its global ocean campaign, Sustain Our Seas, already builds on decades of work by the organisation and its partners on marine conservation.


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