Op-ed by Catherine Haswell, UN Resident Coordinator for Maldives
Oceans and seas cover 70 percent of our planet. We rely on them for food, energy, and water. While healthy oceans and seas are essential for our existence, population growth and outdated economic models and behaviours have caused tremendous damage to our oceans. We are off track to achieve the targets of SDG14: Life Under Water, and for a great Ocean country such as the Maldives, the challenge to recover and protect the ocean cuts very close to home.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has slowed progress to eliminate pollution, and for more responsible management and protection of marine life. This year’s World Oceans’ Day focuses on the connection of the world’s oceans to our lives and livelihoods.
The Maldives is comprised of one percent land and 99 percent water, with each of our 190 inhabited islands surrounded by the ocean. More than the rest of the world, lives and livelihoods of the Maldivian people are directly linked to the seas and oceans, and we more vulnerable to any changes to marine ecosystems. As a great Ocean country, everything that drives our survival and the Maldivian economy is dependent on the care, respect, and understanding of our interdependent relationship with the ocean.
We need to take bold, collective action together with the Government, private sector, civil society, international development partners and the people to reduce and eliminate the specific threats to low lying, Small Island Developing States as the Maldives. While most young people are earning their income from tourism related sectors, more awareness, and a better understanding of how the oceans are connected to our health, livelihoods and the global climate is required for all of us to make impactful changes to protect, conserve and sustain our home for the next generation.
The recently issued UN Second World Oceans Assessment revealed that the benefits that the ocean provides people are being undermined by our own actions: such as exponential increases in plastic waste, overfishing, and increasing carbon emissions. With the UN Decade of Ocean Science, the UN in Maldives will help Maldives achieve its ocean-related 2030 Agenda priorities. This support will include strengthening development and implementation of science-based solutions for fisheries management and better management of marine protected areas to ensure health, wellbeing, and food security for our communities.
Now more than ever, careful management of our seas and oceans will determine our path to a healthier planet and a sustainable future that leaves no one behind. Today, and every day we must ask ourselves what can we personally do to restore our relationship with our oceans? Here are a few actions that can make a difference in our lives as we celebrate the second World Oceans Day amid the global pandemic:
First, we all have a role to play in reducing our carbon footprint. Every little action from switching off your lights when you are not using them, to incorporating walking more into your daily schedules can help. Second, lets eagerly adopt the Government’s newly enacted regulation on reducing single-use plastic into our daily habits. Carry a reusable carry bag to the shops, say no to plastic cutlery in your food delivery, carry a reusable coffee cup or water bottle. Third, make safe, conscious, and sustainable food choices for you and your family’s health. Buy local produce, cook at home, reduce processed foods and reduce food waste.
COVID-19 has been a stark reminder that human health and livelihoods depend on the health of the planet. If we are to survive, the next few years will be crucial, we need to stand together to mitigate the impacts of changing climate, growing population and other environmental stresses on our oceans and seas. Together, we have the power to rise to the challenge and protect at least 30% of our oceans by 2030!