This week, as we celebrate the World Oceans Day, I started to think about the importance of oceans and how frequently we forget about the critical role they play. The reality is that oceans are the home of nearly 2 million species. Marine life is so rich and extensive that it goes from the tiniest bacteria to the largest mammal that ever lived on the planet’s surface. But that’s not all; our oceans regulate our global climate, storing 83% of the global carbon, producing half of the atmosphere’s oxygen, absorbing 26% of our global greenhouse gases emissions, trapping 93% of the excess heat of these gases, and driving the global weather. It is more than evident why it is so important to protect our oceans, but how can we tackle such a huge challenge? The answer is there is no one single solution, so read on for four complementary approaches to safeguarding our oceans’ health:
- Protecting ecosystem integrity. The very complex nature of marine and coastal ecosystems represents a conservation challenge. But if managed strategically and with the right tools, our oceans can provide many conservation opportunities. By helping oceans to maintain their ecosystem integrity, we help them strengthen their natural ecological resilience against stressful conditions like climate change or mechanical activities like oil drilling. Safeguard actions in these ecosystems are directly linked to the protection and restoration of oceanic services. For example, activities that endanger marine life like oil drilling and oil shipping need strong plans in place to avoid oil spills and contingency plans ready in the event of a spill to minimize ecosystem disruptions.
- Protecting species at risk and helping fish stock recover. Marine biodiversity is often put at risk for activities that happen in the oceans like illegal fisheries, or open-ocean aquaculture. Safeguards actions that are taken in this line are aimed to maintain and recover the ocean’s genetic diversity. For example, governments need stricter enforcement of illegal fisheries, and stronger incentives for the promotion of sustainable fisheries, those for example that establish a science based management approach. This approach involves developing plans to establish catch limits and incorporate accountability measures to ensure that those limits are met. This in turn, can result in better fishing practices and prevent overfishing. Safeguard procedures can also be used to regulate open ocean aquaculture practices. This will help prevent the spread of parasites, diseases and discharge of chemical effluents that, if not controlled, can diminish fish population.
- Protecting coastlines. In the past years coastal cities have been dealing with vanishing coastlines, floods, and storm surges. Furthermore, sea level projections indicate that oceans could rise up to six feet by the end of the century. A comprehensive approach incorporating safeguard actions focused on coastal planning for adaptation and mitigation of current and future climate risks is needed. This may include the development of coastal infrastructure like seawalls or dikes and the use of natural systems such as mangroves and sea grasses, in order to reduce the risk of coastal flooding and erosion.
- Supporting sustainable tourism. During the past decades, sustainable tourism has emerged as a very important sector of the international tourism industry. Sustainable tourism is responsible for protecting the integrity of ecosystems while producing economic benefits for communities, at the same time as a valuable tourism experience for the visitor. Sustainable tourism requires integrated planning of activities to promote preservation of vulnerable habitats. Safeguard actions and plans need to be tailored to encourage sustainable tourism over traditional tourism. In addition, these measures should be based on environmental carrying capacity and proven methods of visitor management to reduce impacts and improve the marine ecosystem. Specific measures like limiting the number of visitors in coastal areas that contain sensitive biodiversity like the case of the Ilha do Cabo Frio a biological reserve in Brazil can be preserved and enjoyed at the same time.
Preserving our oceans needs to be a global collaboration, where environmental knowledge with technical procedures and ecological awareness are applied to create best practices. This way we can ensure that we are safeguarding our oceans and that we are creating a more resilient future. So, what role will you play?
 World Wildlife Fund, 2016
 Citizens’ Climate Engagement Network, 2016
 DeConto, Robert M., and David Pollard. “Contribution of Antarctica to past and future sea-level rise.” Nature 531.7596 (2016): 591-597.