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Why it’s time we woke up and listened to the ocean

Tuesday June 08 2021
Ocean pic

By Ghaamid Abdulbasat Hatibu

The importance of protecting biodiversity is not lost on Tanzanians. Our country is well known for its incredible beauty and diverse ecosystems: home to an incredible 24 percent of the world’s biodiversity hotspots.

Perhaps most notable is Serengeti National Park, a shining example of the importance and benefits of protected areas; the great migration draws in millions of visitors each year, while also providing the necessary routes for animals to safely find greener pastures in the western corridor of the Serengeti and then back again. And, just 40km off the mainland, you’ll find another breath-taking example of Tanzania’s natural heritage: the Menai Bay conservation area, home to sea turtles, dolphins and dugongs.

Significant role

On land and at sea, Tanzania’s youth have played a significant role in working to build and maintain protection of our natural resources, and as it stands over a third of our land is protected. However, while Tanzania’s efforts to protect biodiversity so far are admirable, there is one area that we can do more for: the high seas.

The high seas begin 200 nautical miles off our coast and as a result, fall outside of our national jurisdiction. But, importantly, they make up over 64 percent of the earth’s surface. They remain largely unexplored but are believed to make up 95 percent of the earth’s occupied habitats, offering a home to thousands of fish species, providing migratory routes for whales and sharks, as well as harbouring remarkable ecosystems such as deep-water corals and other microscopic life.

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Yet, only around one percent of this vast global common is protected, and unless our governments come together and carve out a plan to safeguard this last great wilderness, the youth, and generations to come will face devastating consequences.

At present no singular governing body holds responsibility for looking after the high seas, and as such they are susceptible to select nations and corporations accessing their resources without suitable supervision, which means increasingly they are exploited on a first come, first serve basis. This lack of oversight has led to unsustainable fishing practices, monopolisation of genetic resource materials, unequal distribution of discoveries of note, and a lack of efficient ecosystem monitoring.

Equality gap

It is no exaggeration to say that the limited access that developing countries, such as my own, has to the high seas has contributed to the growing equality gap. Both in an immediate sense, with regards to medical and scientific advances, but also longer term, with compromised marine ecosystems contributing to climate change, rising sea levels, and reduced fish stocks in our national waters.

The High Seas Treaty, currently under negotiation at the United Nations aims, for the first time, to establish guidelines “for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction”.

This would include a framework to establish a well-connected and representative network of marine protected areas, rigorous and independent environmental impact assessment of ongoing and future activities on the high seas, and clear funding mechanisms that do not marginalise developing nations.

A healthy and productive ocean is crucial for our planet’s survival. To support people, fight climate change and save biodiversity, we need a network of fully and highly protected areas covering at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030, which can only be accomplished by including the high seas.

Climate change

As young people in today’s world, it is easy to feel helpless when trying to combat climate change and biodiversity loss, for years the political will just was not there. But we have changed that - and, slowly but surely, world leaders have opened their eyes to the desperate need for greater action. Now, they must open their ears and listen to the ocean. It needs our help - if not for ourselves, then for future generations. So, on this World Oceans Day today, let’s join together and forge ahead with a robust High Seas Treaty.

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Ghaamid Abdulbasat Hatibu leads the Global Youth Biodiversity Network Chapter in Tanzania