By Tom Szaky
Despite movement in Washington indicating a shift away from sustainability, I am of the firm belief that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and nonprofits dedicated to supporting a science-backed policy agenda will continue to operate as stewards for environmental protection in the United States. Further, governments around the world (in part represented by the United Nations) will continue to demonstrate their view of sustainable development as an integral aspect of economic growth.
This includes a shift in attention to sustainable development around the use of the world’s oceans. June 5-9 is the Ocean Conference, the high-level United Nations Conference to support the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. Coinciding with the global World Oceans Day, the Ocean Conference designed an official program for discussion around creating policy that ultimately enhances the conservation and sustainable use of oceans.
This year, the first discussion topic of the UN Ocean Conference’s official program session focuses on addressing marine pollution. It is estimated that 10-20 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans each year. These include microplastics, which impose severe degradation to natural capital suffered by animals and their habitats. Recent reports confirm that deep-sea animals down in the Mariana Trench, Earth’s deepest point, are ingesting this pollution, which has also found its way into the Arctic. If things don’t change, we could see more plastics than fish in the ocean by 2050.
While the UN has the significant task of galvanizing nations, government agencies and NGOs, creating discussion and initiative at the community level is key to reducing ocean pollution. Individuals and communities are in a position to effect change on the ground by influencing the processes of consumer companies, disseminating information about local cleanups and other volunteer opportunities, and simply raising awareness on the dire state of the world’s waterways.
But getting people working to solve environmental issues can take some strategy. Rising marine temperatures, ocean acidification and a seemingly insurmountable ocean plastic problem are topics that can be intimidating and are largely out of sight, out of mind for the average consumer.
With so much on the line with regards to creating more sustainable infrastructures, it is important that we find ways to engage communities and make resources for clean ocean actions accessible.
Kicking off the UN Ocean Conference June 4 is the inaugural World Ocean Festival, a day of celebration calling upon people to be “A Collective Voice for the World’s Ocean.” The Festival, organized by the Global Brain Foundation, invites current and potential stewards for the ocean to join them in New York City and around the world to bring public attention to the UN’s SDG Goal 14.
The World Ocean Festival is an open, public event, recognizing that millions of people and organizations care about the oceans and will stand together for their protection. It provides opportunities for communities to participate in a global movement for the conservation, preservation and restoration of marine and coastal ecosystems. In addition to the Ocean March, a first-of-its-kind parade of large and small boats on the water as a statement of unity for the ocean, and the Ocean Village on Governors Island, N.Y., the festival features art, education, innovation, and tools for action.
The Festival may be one day out of the year, but celebrating oceans with a multi-faceted, exciting event has the potential to create collaborations and partnerships for positive change we can carry forward.
Working toward UN SDG Goal 14 and the improvement of infrastructures affecting ocean and marine ecosystems is no small task. But as aptly put by Elizabeth Thompson, one of two Executive Coordinators of UN Rio+20, “Oceans are the point at which planet, people, and prosperity come together…that is what sustainable development is about.”
Image credit: Chris Luczkow, Flickr