THE CHALLENGE: Achieving a truly sustainable Blue Economy
On the 8th of June, we will celebrate the fourteenth edition of World Ocean Day, an appointment that serves as a reminder of how the oceans’ well-being is fundamental for our own survival on this planet. Oceans are without a doubt key protagonists of the Earth’s ecosystem, yet their main components – marine diversities – are still widely undiscovered.
With over 90% of underwater species still unknown, mankind is gradually undermining – rather than preserving – the ocean’s health and resources. Threats like marine pollution, ocean warming, eutrophication, acidification, overfishing, and marine habitat destruction all hinder ecosystem biodiversity, and ocean food webs. Equally impacted are the fundamental human rights – especially for small local fishermen, who massively rely on the ocean’s health for their survival. This is the real challenge to achieving a truly sustainable Blue Economy.
WHY IT MATTERS: From oceans to ensure survival and prosperity for all
They cover more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface and contain 97% of the planet’s water. Oceans contribute to poverty eradication by creating sustainable livelihoods and decent work, and they are crucial for global food security and human health. They are also the primary regulator of the global climate, an important sink for greenhouse gasses and they provide us with water and the oxygen we breathe. In fact, we owe plankton 20% of all photosynthesis on Earth and 95% of the recycling of organic matters in the oceans. Oceans are also huge reservoirs of biodiversity. In a teaspoon of salted water, we can find hundreds of thousands of unicellular beings and thousands of minuscule algae. All these functions work perfectly so as long as the delicate balance among marine life, marine ecosystems, and ocean food webs are respected.
Instead, the current state of ocean wellbeing is widely compromised. With eight million tons of plastic ending up in our oceans annually and massive quantities of mercury, phosphorus, nitrogen found underwater, the basic chemistry of oceans is changing at an alarming rate and clear evidence can be found in the 415 dead zones identified worldwide. The importance of oceans for sustainable development is widely recognized by the international community and embodied in Chapter 17 of Agenda 21 (adopted in 1992), the Johannesburg Declaration on Sustainable Development (adopted in 2002) and Plan of Implementation (adopted in 2005) and many other global decisions and Agendas, just as the 2015 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its SDG 14, aimed at managing sustainably and protecting marine and coastal ecosystems, preventing forms of marine pollution, and reducing overexploitation of the oceans.
We need to speed up the protection of our oceans and marine diversity, and this goal cannot be achieved without equally taking care of local communities: islanders, coastal communities, small fishermen, and fish farmers not only depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods but are often real sea guardians and protectors. As the One Health teaches us, the health of individuals, the natural ecosystem, and cultural traditions are all connected dots that are essential to achieving widespread prosperity, for all and of all, and set the path toward integral ecology.
EU STRATEGY for increasing resilience of marine ecosystems, communities, and economies
The European Union is leading the way towards the preservation and regeneration of marine ecosystems, guiding the transition toward more sustainable approaches. As the European Commission reported, “Europe’s seas, oceans, and environment are a source of natural and economic wealth for Europe. We must preserve and protect them to ensure that they continue sustaining us in the future.” The European Green Deal does in fact include among its priorities various related measures and objectives: protecting our biodiversity and ecosystems; reducing air, water, and soil pollution; moving towards a circular economy; improving waste management; ensuring the sustainability of our Blue Economy and fisheries sectors.
This is a goal that is possible thanks to an important shift: moving from a blue growth to a sustainable blue economy. The detailed agenda should help achieve the European Green Deal’s objectives, and complement other recent Commission initiatives on biodiversity, food, mobility, security, data, and more.
Europe is making a particular effort in the oceans’ governance system: in 2016, the Commission set out a joint communication on International Ocean governance: an agenda for the future of our oceans, specifying 50 actions for safe, secure, clean, and sustainably managed oceans in Europe and around the world under three policy pillars: strengthening the international framework governing the oceans; reducing pressure on oceans and seas and creating the conditions for a sustainable ‘blue’ economy; strengthening international ocean research and data.
More recently, at the Our Ocean Conference (OOC) in Palau, the EU renewed its pledges toward International Ocean governance. Presenting a list of 44 commitments for the 2020-2022 period for an amount of almost €1 billion, the EU has brought forward its most important commitments ever offered during an Our Ocean Conference, in terms of value. The aim is to protect marine areas and ecosystems, tackle climate change adaptation, and protect and restore marine biodiversity. One example is the EU’s contribution to the Kiwa initiative, an innovative partnership to strengthen the climate change resilience of pacific island ecosystems, communities, and economies through nature-based solutions.
Inspired by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and in particular SDG 14 (Life below water), the European Commission has also implemented programs and directives to support the ocean and provide socio-economic benefits for its citizens, such as the Integrated Maritime Policy and the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. By adopting a holistic and multi-dimensional approach, the goal of the EU is to foster the sustainability of all sea-related activities, improve the quality of life in coastal regions through tourism and community empowerment, and promote the EU’s leadership on the matter.
However, words are not enough. The Horizon Europe funding program, created by the European Union, has allocated a total budget of €95.5 billion in support of innovative ideas to tackle specific EU mission areas, one of which is oceans, with the final goal of delivering tangible results by 2030. The ambitious goal is to deliver. Mission Starfish 2030 is in fact the plan of action pointing at preventing and eliminating pollution by, for example, reducing plastic litter at sea, nutrient losses, and use of chemical pesticides by 50%: all initiatives that serve to make the blue economy climate-neutral while promoting circularity and net-zero marine emissions.
Drops of hopes: the potential of regenerative oceans
Future Food Institute is contributing to reaching the objectives that the European Union has set. We are strongly convinced that increased ocean health can improve the quality of nutrition for the global society and recover the ecosystem services provided by it. Due to the richness of their marine life, oceans can provide a plurality of sources of proteins for human beings. However, the current state of depletion and degradation of our oceans is putting at risk the high-quality and protein intake of the global society’s nutrition, especially for those who heavily rely on coastal ecosystems.
Climate change is not only jeopardizing the state of oceans and their marine life, but also the pivotal services they provide for our ecosystems, like food security, carbon storage, and oxygen generation. Supporting nature-based solutions to climate change adaptation, increasing the efforts to conserve marine life, and reducing anthropogenic water contamination are urgent measures to increase the resilience of coastal communities but also to restore the natural mitigation role of oceans, for the sake of the global society.
Our Academy has held various open conversations with experts on the ocean and sea-related topics, especially during the Digital Boot Camps, which tackled the issues of sustainable aquaculture, life below water, and Small-Scale Fisheries to raise awareness on marine biodiversity preservation and on the role of oceans in the fight against climate change. Awareness is also generated from real-life experiences and exploration. Last summer, Food & Climate Shapers joined the FAO and FFI Boot Camp in Marettimo (Sicily), an island in the heart of the Egadi archipelago to meet the local fishermen, and visit the Sea Museum, and experience first-hand the life from an islander perspective. This year, the location chosen by the FAO and FFI Boot Camp on Regenerative Oceans is Westfjords (Iceland), one of the most resilient communities where our Climate Shapers will have the chance to experience in person at the end of August.
The President of Future Food, Sara Roversi, stated in an article in January “Especially this year that Italy has been leading the UNESCO network of emblematic communities of the Mediterranean Diet, our country has a crucial role to strengthen its leadership in the diffusion of the Mediterranean lifestyle and preservation of the Mediterranean natural and cultural heritage.” It is with this mindset that we work on our Paideia Campus in Pollica (SA), a project that aims to forecast and spread an integral ecological approach for the regeneration of territories and their environment.
Restarting from the Mediterranean lifestyle also means going back to our marine roots, where life occurs and biodiversity flourishes. Marine Protected Areas play a fundamental role as regulators, essential not only to protecting marine environments from invasive practices but also to sensitizing the population to the importance of living in and around the sea. Engaging with local communities, particularly with small fisheries and whoever deals with sea preservation and biodiversity every day, is essential to merge tradition and innovation. Promoting sustainable fishing practices and the regenerative use of natural resources is, according to Future Food, a collective challenge.
During the upcoming EU AgriFood Week that will take place in Campania, organized by the Future Food Institute, the preservations of seas and oceans will be among the topics addressed in the multi-dimensional panels hosted at Paideia Campus. Moreover, on May 23rd, in Castellabate (SA), a field trip and meeting with local stakeholders will be conducted to develop new strategies for marine protected areas with the help of policymakers, researchers, and most importantly local fishermen.
All together we can turn individual drops into oceans: oceans of sustainability.
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