Ensuring the health of the ocean for present and future generations

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On June 8 we celebrate
World Oceans Day
This date was proclaimed by the United Nations to raise awareness of the importance of the ocean for our planet and to promote its conservation. In 2023, under the slogan “Ocean Planet: the currents are changing.”The report emphasizes the changes taking place in the ocean, the impacts it is suffering, and calls on all sectors of society to raise awareness of the need to prioritize and implement concrete and urgent actions to promote its sustainable management and protection.

The ocean is the heart of the planet, covering more than 70% of its surface. It is our source of life and sustenance for all organisms on Earth. According to the UN, the ocean produces at least 50% of the planet’ s oxygen and absorbs about 30% of the carbon dioxide produced by humans, thus helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. It is also home to most of the world’s biodiversity and provides protein for more than one billion people worldwide. The ocean is also key to the global economy, with an estimated 40 million people working in ocean-related industries by 2030.

However, despite all its benefits, the ocean is threatened by causes such as climate change, pollution and overexploitation of resources. Rising water temperatures, acidification and melting of the polar ice caps are some of the direct consequences of this warming that endanger marine ecosystems. Marine debris and chemical spills are also some of the impacts that negatively affect it, affecting its biodiversity.

The UN notes that 90 % of large marine fish species are currently depleted and that 50 % of coral reefs have been lost, and stresses the need to establish a balance so as not to extract more resources from the ocean than can be replenished. In this sense, this year’s World Day is framed within the framework of the UN Decade of Ocean Science (2021-2027) which provides a priority international framework to address the degradation of marine ecosystems and promote actions to sustainably manage, protect and restore marine and coastal environments.

In the case of our country, the marine protected area exceeds 12% of the waters under national jurisdiction, although Spain aims to improve the conservation of the marine environment and reach 30% of the marine protected area by 2030.

In this context, the Biodiversity Foundation of the Ministry for Ecological Transition and the Demographic Challenge (MITECO), in its work to promote the conservation, protection and restoration of the ocean and marine ecosystems, promotes several projects and programs.

The project
coordinated by the Fundación Biodiversidad, contributes to the integrated, innovative and participatory management of protected marine areas and advances towards the fulfillment of international marine protection commitments, based on the availability of rigorous scientific information and the participation of the sectors involved. Its pillars include research, conservation, governance, awareness raising, as well as the training of agents involved in the effective management of the Natura 2000 Network.

In the field of research, 18 oceanographic campaigns have been carried out, ten of which have been aimed at increasing knowledge of the habitats and species present in unexplored areas for their possible declaration as new Natura 2000 Network sites. In this area, the seabed of Cabo Tiñoso, Cap Bretón and the seamounts of Mallorca have been studied. In addition to these campaigns, there are another 10 campaigns for the declaration of three marine Natura 2000 Network sites due to their importance for the conservation of turtles and, especially, cetaceans.

For its part, the UN Decade for Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) also highlights the need to promote solutions to the environmental challenges facing the marine environment through the generation of scientific knowledge and the implementation of an economic model that takes into account the existing limits in the natural environment. In this way, through the Pleamar Programco-financed by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), the Biodiversity Foundation works to support the fishing sector in its commitment to sustainability, generating synergies between public and private agents, with the aim of to reinforce their involvement with the protection and conservation of the marine environment in which they operate.

Thus, projects aimed at the protection and recovery of marine biodiversity; the reduction and management of waste and garbage in the sea; the improvement of knowledge and management of Spain’s Marine Protected Areas, with special attention to the marine Natura 2000 Network; the reduction of by-catches and the use of discards, as well as the strengthening of collaboration between the scientific community and the fishing and aquaculture sector are promoted.

With a view to further strengthening these objectives, the Fundación Biodiversidad has been included in the Operational Program of the European Maritime Fund for Fisheries and Aquaculture (FEMPA).This new period will allow strengthening aspects related to the protection and improvement of knowledge of the marine environment through research, strengthening governance, reducing the impact of fishing and improving environmental knowledge of aquaculture. The first call for the Pleamar Program under the FEMPA is expected to be published in 2023, with a financial endowment of 14.5 million euros.

These lines of work highlight how the joint effort of all social actors is key to contribute to improving the health of the ocean, guaranteeing its well-being and that of present and future generations.