Preface

The world’s oceans are already under stress as a result of over-fishing, pollution and other environmentally-damaging activities in the coastal zones and now on the high seas.

Climate change is presenting a further and wide-ranging challenge with new and emerging threats to the sustainability and productivity of a key economic and environmental resource.

This new, rapid response report attempts to focus the numerous impacts on the marine environment in order to assess how multiple stresses including climate change might shape the marine world over the coming years and decades.

It presents worrisome findings and requests governments to respond with ever greater urgency in order to combat global warming and to conserve and more strategically manage the oceans and seas and their extraordinary but shrinking resources.

The challenge of the seas and oceans in terms of monitoring has always been a formidable one with the terrestrial world more visible and easier to see. This is despite fisheries contributing to the global food supply and a supporter of livelihoods and cultures for millennia.

However, there is growing and abundant evidence that the rate of environmental degradation in the oceans may have progressed further than anything yet seen on land. This report highlights the situation in 2007 in the economically important 10 to 15% of the oceans and seas where fish stocks have been and remain concentrated.

These fishing grounds are increasingly damaged by over-harvesting, unsustainable bottom trawling and other fishing practices, pollution and dead zones, and a striking pattern of invasive species infestations in the same areas.

According to the report, these same areas may lose more than 80% of their tropical and cold water coral reefs due to rising sea temperatures and increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2) leading to a decrease in seawater pH (acidification).

Finally, these same areas are also facing rapidly growing pollution from coastal development, potential consequences of climate change such as possible slowing of ‘flushing’ mechanisms and increasing infestations of invasive species.

We are now observing what may become, in the absence of policy changes, a collapsing ecosystem with climate the final coup d’grace. There are many reasons to combat climate change, this report presents further evidence of the need to act if we are to maintain ecosystems and services that nourish millions; provide important tourism income and maintain biodiversity.

Achim Steiner
Executive Director
United Nations Environment Programme

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