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By Neha Madhusoodanan
The last day of the Dräger Foundation’s Sustainable Oceans Conference had a genial atmosphere, with attendees introducing themselves over bagels and scones and chatting about the future. The pleasant company and eagerness of attendants, however, belied the seriousness of their undertaking. The diverse participants from academic, business, and policy backgrounds were attempting to do no less than save the world’s oceans. With the experts gathered at this conference, the Dräger Foundation looked to draft international legislation that would create the regulations needed to stop rapid deterioration of this resource.
The moderator of the first session, John Richardson, was the Special Adviser on Maritime Affairs for Finsbury International Policy and Regulatory Advisors (FIPRA) in Belgium. This session, aimed at creating international shipping initiatives for ocean sustainability and safety, brought together experts from both the shipping industry and government to communicate on what has been done so far and what challenges lay ahead.
The first speaker was Captain Andrew Winbow of the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in the United Kingdom. He explained that an important function of the IMO is to regulate the sea and prevent ship pollution. One of the biggest challenges comes in the form of sulfur and nitrogen oxide in the air. The crux of the problem, Winbow said, was the conflict between setting specific goals for different organizations and successfully applying them to a globalized resource. He cited the example of budding tourism in the Arctic and Antarctica. Ship and passenger regulations have not been agreed upon yet, which is a dangerous situation for both the passengers and the environment. Many solutions to these problems have been proposed by the IMO, such as the energy efficiency design index and ship energy efficiency management plan. Though many regulatory changes have been orchestrated by the European Union and United States, there is still a long way to go.
Peter Hinchliffe of the International Chamber of Shipping and International Shipping Federation spoke of limitations from the shipping side of marine governance. Hinchliffe addressed other issues that hadn’t been touched upon, including hull biofouling (the accumulation of microorganisms on ship hulls) and radiated noise (frequencies emitted by merchant-ships). The main reason that ships are such a priority, says Hinchliffe, is their lifetime; the average ship has a lifespan of over 25 years. If these boats are not equipped with environmental safe measures like green waste management and incinerators, the prospect for clean oceans is slim. Hinchliffe clearly mapped out the major difficulty of cleaning up the shipping industry—insufficient commitment from governments and ship manufacturers. In addition, substandard shipping practices continue because they foster lower operating costs for shipbuilders and traders. For these reason, organizations like the IMO have to provide subsidies to shipbuilders in order to help shipping companies stay environmentally sustainable and profitable in a tough market. Hinchliffe went on to discuss measures the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has taken to address these issues, including a very strict policy of national and open ship registery. Hinchliffe believes a stronger national transport policy will benefit the shipping community by forcing ship owners to take responsibility for making sure their ships are up to code.
Marine biologist Elliott Norse then discussed the consequences of a failure to regulate the shipping industry. Ballast water (water transferred from one body of water to another) is especially dangerous because it can easily transfer invasive species and upset native ecosystems. Another harmful feature of marine pollution is radiated noise; though it may seem harmless, the horns of ships have been found to directly interfere with communication between marine life that utilize sonar and other means of audio communication. The frequencies that ships communicate with one another are disorienting for animals like blue whales, who depend on their acoustic surroundings to find food and mates. In this reduced-quality acoustic habitat, the whales are left more susceptible to ship strike. A major overhaul of shipping industry regulations is required to create quieter ships.
The last session was geared toward solutions for regulating fisheries and shipping in international waters. Rainer Froese, senior scientist at GEOMAR in Germany and founder of FishBase.org, collected data on 200 species of marine life. His presentation at the conference combined FishBase with AquaMaps.org, another organization that maps the oceans and provides information on regional ocean species. He asserted that fisheries are not taking advantage of these data resources. Furthermore, Froese insisted that fisheries must desist from unsustainable practices such as carnivore aquaculture, which takes small fish like anchovies and sardines and feeds them to larger fish in order to fatten them. Froese believes that if these smaller fish are packaged and shipped to poorer nations, they will have a high-protein yield that is far more sustainable than carnivore aquaculture.
Dr. Froese also tackled the problem of overfishing, one of the biggest problems faced by the marine world. Subsidies have enabled the practice to continue for years. Because overharvesting is unsustainable without subsidies, stopping its funding would effectively end overfishing, Froese claims. Another promising preventative measure is the development of the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) of fish. By taking account of species interactions, the MSY is achieved by harvesting less fish than natural predators would take. Although this model is extremely effective in limiting overfishing in specific species, in cases of multi-species fishing the process is complicated and requires further research.
Though many limitations were cited at the conference, the audience donned an idealistic outlook, with both the speakers and attendees working together to ask tough questions that highlighted the importance of ocean sustainability. In paving the way for the third installment of the conference next year in Portugal, the organization attempts to engage politicians, businesses, scientific organizations, and NGOs in a joint “Blueprint for Good Governance towards Sustainable Use of the Seas.” Hopefully this conference series translates to actions by all of these sectors to preserve this resource for future generations. A set of jointly created regulations from the public and private sectors could make an ocean of difference.
Neha Madhusoodanan is an Editorial Assistant at World Policy Journal.
[Image courtesy of Flickr]