The United Nations (UN) General Assembly in 2008, designated 8th June each year as the World Oceans Day. World Oceans Day is marked by hundreds of events across the globe aimed at celebrating our seas and deliberating on how best to curb threats to its sustainability.
In Ghana, World Oceans day was observed this year (2016) with a celebratory programme at the Ghana Armed Forces Command and Staff College, aimed at bringing major concerns regarding the oceans to the forefront and deliberating on collective efforts towards their amelioration. The local theme, Healthy Seas, Healthy People highlighted the impact of the oceans ecosystems and mineral resources on the livelihoods of all people. Present were delegates from the Environmental Protection Agency, the UNEP/ Abidjan Convention, the International Maritime Organisation, the USAID West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change Programme, and other relevant institutions and agencies.
Constituting over 70% of the planet’s surface and providing crucial ecosystems services, the world’s oceans are integral to supporting human life. They produce a substantial proportion of our daily oxygen intake and play a crucial role in regulating world climate. As a matter of fact, the ocean absorbs not only large amounts of excessive carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but also excess atmospheric heat. More so, oceans form an integral part of global trade in general and African trade in particular; majority of African imports and exports are transported by sea.
In the context of Africa’s coastline, the oceanic stretch from Mauritania to South Africa, spanning 22 countries and forming the maritime scope of the Abidjan convention, is noted as one of the most crucial regions for the global economic future. Its rich marine biodiversity and offshore mineral resources provide immense opportunities for marine scientific research, hydrocarbon exploration and other developmental activities. Indeed, the region hosts three of the largest marine ecosystems in the world: the Canary, the Guinea and the Benguela Current areas.
The most pronounced man-induced threat to the ocean in recent decades has been pollution from marine litter. More particularly, plastic pollution has had austere impacts on aquatic health, since aquatic animals often mistake plastic debris for food. To make matters worse, research is beginning to show that some aquatic species chose to eat plastic waste over actual food sources in their natural environments. Indeed, several metric tons of plastic waste are dumped in the sea annually, so that fishermen often find overwhelming amounts of plastics in their catches.
Furthermore, inappropriate fishing practices have resulted in massive depletion of fish stocks. In Ghana, Sardines and Horse Mackerel stocks have reduced appreciably. Illegal Unregulated and Unreported (IUU) fishing activities alone are believed to result in several million dollars of losses to the African continent.
Over-exploitation, destruction of marine habitats, climate change and marine pollution each pose a unique set of significant threats to the oceans which require the urgent attention of the international community.
To forge a safer and more sustainable future for the world’s oceans, the need for international cooperation and collaboration cannot be overemphasised. For instance, the establishment of marine protected areas on the basis of regional arrangements is necessary to ensure the preservation of valuable marine biodiversity in the oceans. Regional initiatives like the Abidjan Convention and other regional strategic action plans play a major role in promoting sustainable coastal habitats and improving marine ecosystems.
At the national level, countries may develop systematic plans to address pollution and the degradation of coastal habitats. Stringent measures, such as those adopted in countries like Rwanda, should be put in place to reduce the generation of plastics to prevent them from ending up in the seas as marine letter. More so, there is the need to educate the general public on the need to protect coastal environments. Educational campaigns could be embarked on to emphasise the value of the oceans and to assist communities in developing the right culture towards the preservation of the ocean and its resources.