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UN Task Force Says Oceans Need Better Management

March 07, 2005

Press contact: Christopher Dudley, 305-456-1625

The United Nations Task Force on Environmental Sustainability (Task Force 6) says that the world's oceans need to be better managed and has outlined strategies to ensure their sustainability, according to a report released today in New York City.

Oceans cover approximately 70 percent of the earth's surface and provide critical ecosystem services such as climate control, carbon sequestration, oxygen generation, as well as economic and recreational opportunities. Ocean fish catches also provide protein for more than two-thirds of the world's population. Task Force 6's recommendations will help manage oceans more effectively to achieve environmental sustainability and maintain the well-being of the world's human population.

The report also points out some discouraging trends in marine ecosystems. Overfishing is responsible for 55 percent of marine extinctions and accounts for the loss of more than 90 percent of top ocean predators. Direct drivers of such negative trends include the use of destructive and nonselective fishing practices, overexploitation, pollution, invasive species, and climate change. Indirect drivers include increased population growth, subsidies, ineffective policies and enforcement, and insufficient attention to scientific advice.

To slow the degradation of marine ecosystems, Task Force 6 recommends managing fisheries at sustainable levels through an ecosystem-based approach, rebuilding depleted fish populations to healthy levels, and establishing a network of representative, fully protected reserves.

Sustainable fisheries, according to Task Force 6, can be achieved by implementation of Ecosystem-Based Fishery Management, a strategy outlined in an article published in Science in 2004 authored by task force member Ellen Pikitch of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science and 16 other leading marine scientists. The approach emphasizes that robust fisheries depend upon healthy marine ecosystems. To restore levels of depleted fish populations, Task Force 6 recommends:

  • eliminating bottom trawling on the high seas and globally;
  • enacting and enforcing regulations against destructive fishing practices;
  • developing technologies to minimize bycatch;
  • eliminating the extraction of coral;
  • controlling overfishing through national regulations and the elimination of damaging subsidies and market mechanisms; and
  • restoring depleted fish populations to at least minimum target levels of biomass as agreed to at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

Finally, Task Force 6 recommends establishing a network of fully protected marine reserves covering 10 percent of the oceans within the next decade, and with a long-term goal of 30 percent.

While some of these recommendations have been made in other fora, this is the first instance where a broad-based task force has urged these steps at the global level. Task Force 6 maintains that these steps are unquestionably necessary to stem the decline of the earth’s oceans and other key environments and are essential to achieving environmental sustainability and the other Millennium Development Goals. Without dramatic reforms, both environmental sustainability and human well-being will remain in jeopardy.

In January 2005, the United Nations Millennium Project presented strategies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of internationally agreed upon targets to reduce by 2015 poverty, hunger, disease, illiteracy, environmental degradation, and discrimination against women. The UN Millennium Project is an independent advisory body, comprised of several Task Forces, commissioned by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to develop a global plan for achieving the MDGs.

Dr. Ellen K. Pikitch, Executive Director of the Pew Institute for Ocean Science and a professor at the University of Miami Rosenstiel School for Marine and Atmospheric Science, is a member of Task Force 6 on Environmental Sustainability, a group of highly distinguished and internationally recognized individuals charged with identifying policy measures to reverse environmental degradation and to ensure more efficient management of ecosystems. Dr. Pikitch served as the specialist on marine science and fisheries issues.

To save the release as a word doc click here

Read more about the U.N. Millennium Project
Read more about Task Force 6 on Environmental Sustainability
Read more about the World Summit On Sustainable Development

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