By Dona Bertarelli
I want to thank all our partner schools, in France and Switzerland, and the 2,000 students who are following us. Whenever I can, I will be answering your many questions throughout this journey around the planet, a journey that we are taking together to discover the wonders of our world.
With all the crew of Spindrift 2, through our observations and our encounters, not only with marine life, but also with the islands and peninsulas that we pass, with the meteorological phenomena we experience, and with the birds and the stars that accompany us during our voyage, we will help you to live this adventure, like Phileas Fogg in Jules Verne’s famous book. We are calling our Spindrift for Schools series - Out of the Classroom.
As I approach the end of a 29,000 nautical mile journey around the world, I hope I have been able to share with you my love and passion for the sea. I have learned a huge amount during this Jules Verne Trophy record attempt, and I hope that through these Out of the Classroom articles, you have also been able to learn about some of the wonders of our oceans.
At times, I realise I have been quite direct and perhaps even repetitive when talking about the challenges faced by the world’s oceans and their inhabitants. But that is because I believe strongly that we all have a role to play to preserve them for future generations.
My final piece resumes what my intention has been during the past few weeks through the Out of the Classroom articles: to show the beauty, the diversity and the wonders of our world, and by doing so, to raise awareness of this delicate and precious environment that needs our utmost care and attention.
I have named it: The sea is calling us.
People who live on or near the sea understand the importance of a healthy marine environment. But if you don't dwell near the ocean it might not seem so apparent. And to even more people it certainly would not be obvious why the fate of the world’s oceans, and the life they contain, now depends so heavily on us.
Why are the oceans so important to people?
Oceans cover approximately 72% of the earth’s surface and contain a significant percentage of all species, many of which are still unknown to science. They produce over half the oxygen in our atmosphere and absorb vast quantities of carbon dioxide, a gas that traps the sun's heat and has the capacity, unless it is controlled, to increase the world’s temperature to levels that threaten the survival of vast numbers of species, most of which live within a rather narrow temperature range.
Oceans also filter much of the pollution we generate, and play a vital role in regulating the Earth's climate through the evaporation and condensation of water, as well as the circulation of vast ocean currents that distribute heat around the globe. And oceans may be even more important when it comes to food. Over 250 million people depend directly or indirectly on fishing for their livelihood, and oceans are an important source of protein for almost 3 billion people worldwide. In short, the health of the world’s oceans is intrinsically linked to the health of the world’s human population.
However, during the thousands of years that humans have exploited the resources of the sea for food, minerals, oil, and a host of other products, the world’s population has grown along with our demands on those resources. The result is that the world’s oceans are being stressed in ways they have never been stressed before.
Pollution from land-based sources as well as ocean dumping, the destruction of coastal habitat for development, huge increases in shipping and, of course, climate change, are taking a profound toll on ocean health. In fact, nearly half of the world’s remaining coral reefs are at risk of collapse, and 20% are so damaged that it is unclear whether they can ever be restored to a state of health.
However, of the many pressures that currently affect life in the sea, none are as serious as industrial fishing. Over the past century, remarkable advances in technology have enabled us to find, capture and kill fish and other ocean life that inhabit areas of the sea that were beyond our reach fifty years ago. That is no longer the case. We are now removing an estimated 80 million metric tons of fish and invertebrates every year from the world’s oceans, a staggering amount of life that simply cannot be sustained.
Until recently, it was widely believed that humans could not do serious damage to the oceans. They were considered too vast, too powerful, and too abundant to be seriously impacted by the activities of people. We know now this is not true. Unless we change our relationship to the Earth’s oceans, we will inevitably bear witness to their collapse. Considering all that the oceans have provided humanity, and all they still can give, that would be the equivalent of killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
There is no single remedy for all the problems that threaten life in the sea. However, among the many tools we do have are marine reserves -- special places in which no fishing or other extractive activity is allowed. Although nearly three-quarters of the planet’s surface is covered by water, very little of it is comprehensively protected.
Such protection is essential if we are to conserve biodiversity and restore the health of the world’s marine environment. Less than 2% of the world’s oceans are comprehensively protected in the form of reserves, far less than the terrestrial environment. Although parks and wilderness areas are not by any means a panacea for everything that ails the world’s oceans, they are an important part of the answer.
My family, directly through the work of the Bertarelli Foundation and in our collaboration with many partners, including The Pew Charitable Trust, has helped create half the surface of marine reserves that exists in our world today. And, as our experience grows, we plan to do much more.
We must all redouble our efforts to establish large, fully protected marine reserves, but especially, we need a huge amount of political courage to achieve the global target to protect 30% of our oceans.
France has the world’s 2nd largest ocean territory. So after the announcement of New Zealand Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, Chile Easter Island marine reserve, we should praise the announcement made by the French government during the COP21 in Paris. It intends to protect the French Southern and Antarctic Lands by creating a highly protected marine reserve about 550,000 square kilometers in size. That is an area slightly larger than mainland France. If created, the reserve in the Southern Indian Ocean would be the first large, highly protected marine sanctuary in French waters and the fifth largest in the world. It would also create the gold standard of conservation in this remote and unspoiled part of the world. This reserve would encompass 5 percent of French waters and represent an important step towards meeting global targets for ocean conservation.
Marine reserves will help protect marine habitat and the life that depends on it: they will increase fish production, provide a laboratory for science and education, and help to promote tourism. In a warming world, the consequences of which will be widespread, they will provide an additional buffer of protection to help these places -- and the life they contain -- adjust and survive.
Just as humans have depended on oceans for thousands of years as a source of food, medicine, jobs, and a host of other benefits, the oceans now need us to ensure their survival in the times ahead. Our lives are intrinsically linked to the sea. If we fail to heed its call, we do so at our own peril. The oceans are calling to us for help. We must respond.