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Grave Threats Face World's Seventh Largest Economy

Andrew Burger headshotWords by Andrew Burger
Energy & Environment
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Can we put a price on the world's oceans? Covering over 70 percent of our planet's surface and essential for its basic functioning, the idea may seem ludicrous at first. Yet, given the growing amount of pollution and waste we dump into the oceans and our ongoing over-exploitation of seafood stocks, we've come to the point where leading ocean scientists and policymakers believe putting an economic value on the world's ocean resources is critical.

In a new report entitled Reviving the Ocean Economy: A Case for Action – 2015, World Wildlife Fund International, the University of Queensland's Global Change Institute and the Boston Consulting Group argue that the economic value of the world's oceans “rivals that of the world's largest economies.”

"The value of key ocean assets is conservatively estimated ... to be at least $24 trillion,” the research partners stated in the report, released on April 23.

The ocean would rank seventh on a ranking of the world's top 10 economies, yielding $2.5 trillion worth of goods and services annually. Unfortunately, ocean resources “are eroding rapidly,” according to the report. In addition to shining a light on the pressures, threats and costs to ocean resources, the research partners offer recommendations for sustaining the oceanic resource base and marine ecosystems.

The ocean economy: Sinking fast

As the partners summarize in a press release: “Reviving the ocean economy reveals the sea’s enormous wealth through assessments of goods and services ranging from fisheries to coastal storm protection, but the report also describes an unrelenting assault on ocean resources through over-exploitation, misuse and climate change.”

“The ocean rivals the wealth of the world’s richest countries, but it is being allowed to sink to the depths of a failed economy. As responsible shareholders, we cannot seriously expect to keep recklessly extracting the ocean’s valuable assets without investing in its future,” added Carlo Lambertini, director general of the World Wildlife Fund.

Fisheries collapse, destruction of mangroves, and loss of coral reefs and seagrass beds portend continuing degradation and loss of critical ocean resources, the report highlights. Compounding these factors is climate change and associated ocean acidification, which the report authors conclude “is a leading cause of the ocean’s failing health.”

They also highlight that -- at the current rate of warming -- coral reefs, which “provide food, jobs and storm protection to several hundred million people, will disappear completely by 2050.”

Fastest change in millions of years

Fundamental conditions in the world's oceans are changing more rapidly than at any other period of time in millions of years, the research partners add. That heightens our need to better understand the workings of ocean ecosystems, including more comprehensively and accurately assessing the economic value of ocean resources.

“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,” said Douglas Beal, partner and managing director of the Boston Consulting Group. “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."

An eight-point plan for reviving the ocean economy


Despite the losses and ongoing degradation, it's not too late to reverse the tide of threats to sustainable ocean ecosystems and economic activity, the research partners say. In the report, they present “an eight-point action plan that would restore ocean resources to their full potential.”

Incorporating ocean recovery into the United Nations' strategic Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would be one key, “time critical” step the community of nations could take, they say. Similarly, taking stronger global action to mitigate and adapt to climate change and “making good on strong commitments to protect coastal and marine areas,” would be major steps forward.

“The ocean feeds us, employs us, and supports our health and well-being, yet we are allowing it to collapse before our eyes," Lambertini said. "If everyday stories of the ocean’s failing health don’t inspire our leaders, perhaps a hard economic analysis will. We have serious work to do to protect the ocean starting with real global commitments on climate and sustainable development."

*Image credits: WWF International

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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