The Way Towards Sustainable Oceans

Harsh Amrit & Nitya Malviya*

In contemporary times, the inter-relationship between nature and human society has become more and more extensive. This has led to a shared position by everyone, where the question of sustainable utilization of natural resources affects all. This question is more pronounced for ocean and seas, which covers 71 percent of the Earth and play an indispensable role in maintaining life on Earth. Thus, a sustainable marine life is necessary for a healthy life on land. The biggest obstacle in ecosystem-based management of oceans is that the areas beyond the Exclusive Economic Zone, which is also called Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) representing 95% of Earth’s total habitat by volume,[1] are beyond any country’s jurisdiction. Till now, no Convention or Treaty is in place which can close this governance gap. The plethora of existing international legal instruments suggests that, in general, efforts to ensure sustainable development of the oceans are hampered by weaknesses in implementation, due to a lack of legal and technological coverage. 

ABNJ represents the least protected areas on the planet, despite being rich in biological diversity. This area covers a great chunk of Earth’s surface, which continues to be threatened by overfishing, seabed mining, marine pollution, increasing CO2 level, etc. Scientists and environmentalists have expressed their concern over the over-exploitation of ABNJ. This has led to the Sydney Outcome Document by International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN), which calls for identifying 30% of ABNJ as protected areas.[2]

It is evident that the contemporary governance gaps can’t be filled using the existing treaties and framework. In coming up with a legal method to protect the ABNJ, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) comes as a guiding light. The preamble of UNCLOS not only highlights the importance of conservation of oceans and seas, but also vocalizes the idea of achieving goals through coordination and cooperation.[3]Consequentially, a new binding framework under UNCLOS needs to be developed, which could address the contemporary challenges.

The first thing under the new framework should be the creation of Conference of Parties and subsidiaries to look after various sectors. This will help in advancing the decision of the parties in the Conference and in smoothening the implementation of the framework. Additionally, an advisory body to provide assistance on the lines of Convention of Biological Diversity needs to be established.[4]

The technological aspect of innovation to deal with the Sustainable development of ABNJ should be included. In preceding years, we have seen the challenges and primary issues that were published in reports, which science needs to address through technical innovations.

One such report titled ‘Ocean Economy in 2030’, published by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has already revealed the advances of science and technology which are underway to address the challenges that are faced by marine ecosystem due to acidification of ocean water, entering of alien species in the ocean, overfishing etc.[5] These technologies include biotechnology for breeding, vaccine, and food development in aquaculture;[6] remote sensing using high- frequency radar and high-resolution satellites for monitoring of oil spills from ships platforms and of chemical contaminants. [7]

The report also provided targets which are to be achieved through science and technology. Some of the Sustainable Developments Goals 14 (SDGs 14) tend to achieve sustainable management and protection of marine and coastal ecosystems to avoid the adverse impacts and also to take actions for the restoration to achieve productive oceans by 2020. One of the prominent goals to be fulfilled by 2025 is to prevent and reduce all kinds of marine pollution, especially from land-based activities.[8] Success in these targets will require not only actions by governments, but also by companies, different communities, and civil society.

Saving Oceans : Technologies To Protect The Seas

In the view of United Nations’ SDG 14, there is a growing need for utilisation of techniques that provide new tools and possibilities for managing ocean resources.Some ways to maintain economic growth and sustainability of the ocean environment, simultaneously, are:

  1. To combat the entrance of alien species, Ballast Water Treatment is a must: Ballast Water is held in tanks and cargo holds of ships to provide stability to the ship, which may be saline or freshwater.ThisWater Management aims to prevent unwanted species from being transported between ports in the ballast. This treatment has been installed only in a small number of ships, but its growth would be rapid. This lets the ballast water exchange or replaces this water with higher saline ocean water.  This exchange reduces the number of potentially invasive species in the ballast tanks.[9]
  2. Using floating offshore wind power to generate renewable energy and to reduce greenhouse gases: This method is still in its infancy and there is only one commercial-scale facility available in the world. These offshore wind energies are apt as they produce electricity without consuming water along withno emission of environmental pollutants or greenhouse gases.[10]
  3. Conversion of decommissioned oil and gas into an artificial reef: An artificial reef provides a high amount of complexity for fish and other organisms. It stands normal in large storms and also helps in preventing ocean erosion.[11]
  4. Innovations in the marine aquaculture sector, which may make the field economically and environmentally sustainable.

The framework should take note that to have better protection of the Marine ecosystem, the areas designated as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) need to be expanded. This should also compulsorily include the regulation of human activities in those areas. Though, some MPAs have been established outside natural boundaries through mutual agreement between countries, like the Pelagos Sanctuary[12] in the Mediterranean, as decided among France, Italy, and Morocco. But such agreements are binding only on the parties who are signatory to the agreement. So, there is a need to globally identify and recognize such agreements through the new framework.

The new framework should contain provisions for a standardized Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) in marine areas as well as Strategic Environmental Assessments (SEA). For the effective management of MPAs in ABNJ, a balance and standardization of various attributes need to be clear to all stakeholders.

Another important aspect that needs to be covered in the new framework in the regulation of Marine Genetic Resources (MGR). The oceans are rich in biodiversity, which needs to be protected and has huge potential in various science and tech fields.[13] The current mechanism over MGRs, i.e. the Nagoya Protocol and Convention on Biological Diversity don’t cover the Genetic Resource available in ABNJ. So, in the light of UNGA resolution 2749[14], a guideline to protect this Common Heritage of Mankind should be made by creating conservation sites and biorepositories.

Conclusion

The conflict between development and environment has been subsisting for years.This has increased the concern for the marine environment. Oceans support the major part of the living organisms on earth. Also, as a matter of fact, oceans have been a focal point of development and pertaining to environmental consciousness, sustainability of oceans is of prominent nature to keep up the water cycle that provides water for all types of lives on earth. Along with providing food and water, it provides jobs to a part of the population who lives in coastal areas. It is about time when we think together on the marine ecosystem and protect it with the help of technical and legal innovations. It is the water and sunlight that creates a sustainable life on earth.

About the Author

*Harsh Amrit & Nitya Malviya are first and second year students at National Law University and Judicial Academy Assam, Guwahati and Dharmashastra National Law University, Jabalpur respectively.


[1]Governing areas beyond national jurisdiction, IUCN (Mar. 2019), https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/ issues_brief_governing_areas_beyond_national_jurisdiction.pdf.

[2]The Promise of Sydney, IUCN (Nov., 2014), http://worldparkscongress.org/about/promise_of_sydney.

[3]United Nations convention on the law of the sea, UN,https://www.un.org/Depts/los/convention_agreements/texts/unclos/closindx.html.

[4]Kristina M. Gjerde & Anna Rulska-Domino, Marine Protected Areas beyond National Jurisdiction: Some Practical Perspectives for Moving Ahead, 27(2) THE INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF

MARINE AND COASTAL LAW 351, 359 (2012).

[5] Rethinking Innovation for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, OECD, http://www.fao.org/fi/static-media/MeetingDocuments/BlueHope/secondmeeting/Blue%20Economy%20blue%20growth/Rethinking%20Innovation%20for%20a%20Sustainable%20Ocean%20Economy.pdf.

[6]Ocean Economy in 2030, OECD (Jan. 5, 2017), https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/16e4aefb-en/index.html?itemId=/content/component/16e4aefb-en.

[7] Supra note 1.

[8]SDG 14: Life Below Water, UN in India, https://in.one.un.org/page/sustainable-development-goals/sdg-14/.

[9]Eugene H. Buck, Ballast Water Management to Combat Invasive Species, (Apr. 10, 2012), https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32344.pdf.

[10]Bob Berwyn, How do offshore wind farms affect ocean ecosystems?, (Nov. 22, 2017) https://www.dw.com/en/how-do-offshore-wind-farms-affect-ocean-ecosystems/a-40969339.

[11]Artificial Reefs: What works and what doesn’t, https://newheavenreefconservation.org/marine-blog/147-artificial-reefs-what-works-and-what-doesn-t.

[12] Daniela Addis, The Protection and Preservation of Marine Environment, ICEF, http://www.vliz.be/imisdocs/publications/288227.pdf.

[13]Marine Genetic Resources: Bridging policy, law, science and research and development, EUROPEAN COMMISSION (May 24, 2019), https://ec.europa.eu/maritimeaffairs/press/marine-genetic-resources-bridging-policy-law-science-and-research-and-development_en#:~:text=Marine%20microbes%20bring%20services%20to,national%20jurisdiction%20are%20not%20regulated.

[14] General Assembly resolution 2479, Resolution 2749 (XXV): Declaration of Principles Governing the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor, and the Subsoil Thereof, beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction, A/RES/25/2749 (Dec. 2, 1970), undocs.org/en/ A/RES/25/2749.

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