$1bn to save the ocean | The Economist

published on July 2, 2020

$1m to spend on the ocean?

Actually, $1bn Hypothetically speaking

This was a question The Economist put to

five of the world’s leading thinkers in ocean conservation


So, $1bn


$1bn doesn’t go very far these days

For seven decades Sir David Attenborough has brought

the natural world into people’s homes

His ground-breaking television series “Blue Planet”

raised global awareness of mankind’s impact on the ocean

So, how would Sir David spend that $1bn?

I would spend a bit of it on trying to persuade

the nations of the world that these are the property of humanity

as a whole and had to be dealt with

by human beings getting together and agreeing on a policy

to look after the precious things that are the ocean

Countries have long disputed how the ocean should be governed

But there is a framework in place

Each coastal nation governs the water that extends

12 nautical miles from its shore, known as its Territorial Sea

For up to 200 nautical miles out

coastal nations have their own exclusive economic zones

where they have sovereign rights to resources like fish, oil and minerals

Beyond that, it’s the high seas, a vast expanse of water

owned at once by everyone, and no one

A basic law of the sea does exist

and a tangle of overlapping authorities

often with conflicting mandates, oversees particular activities

And little consequence for nations that don’t abide by it

Negotiations are under way for a new treaty

to protect the biodiversity of the high seas

But to make it effective, it will need to have more teeth than its predecessors

Sir David’s $1bn could be spent on funding

and demonstrating the value of multinational-enforcement schemes

Yet any negotiations over the high seas face a major stumbling block

fishing rights

If I have $1bn, I will establish no-take zones

Zafer Kizilkaya is a conservationist from Turkey

The main problem right now is the resource management

We over-exploited many things

As a result of unsustainable fishing practices

over a third of the world’s fish stocks have collapsed

Mr Kizilkaya successfully convinced his government

to create 3,000 hectares where fishing isn’t allowed

otherwise known as “no-take zones”

This is the most major spawning and nursery area

So, that’s why we have to keep this area safe from all kinds of fishing pressure

amateur, professional—any kind

In the ten years since Mr Kizilkaya’s no-take zone has been in place

marine biomass has increased by 800%

But there’s a problem

Less than 1% of the whole ocean surface is no-fishing zone

And within this 1%, probably half of that is not well enforced

Creating no-take zones is one thing

Policing them is another

Putting the marine-protected areas on the paper as no-fishing zones

doesn’t mean anything Do we have rangers? Do we have boats?

Do we have people protecting these areas from any illegal activity?

Illegal, unreported or unregulated fishing

accounts for one-in-every-five fish taken from the sea

And this is where Zafer Kizilkaya would spend his $1bn

Technology could easily help–the satellite technology or

high-tech drones, which can fly really long distances

It is the most time-consuming, money-consuming part of marine conservation

That’s where we need this $1bn

But to convince the international community to create

more marine-protected areas, requires evidence

and that means more science

So, what would I do with $1bn?

As a scientist, it may be a bit obvious that I would want to invest it in science

We do have large gaps in our knowledge that need to be filled

Dr Susanne Lockhart is a marine biologist

with a particular interest in cold-water coral

It may seem that we know a lot about the ocean

but it is the tip of the iceberg of what we need to know

in order to keep our ocean healthy

Just two years ago, Dr Lockhart became the first person

to ever explore the floor of Antarctica’s Weddell Sea

Antarctica has some of the densest and most diverse

seabed communities you could ever see

Many thought these waters were too deep and too cold to support much life

But on this expedition, her team uncovered

vast coral reefs teeming with marine life

So you’ve got sea stars, a brittle star

We can learn so much from a thousand-year-old coral colony

Dr Lockhart’s research has been used as the basis for a proposal

to create the world’s biggest marine-protected area

1m square miles in the Antarctic

With an extra $1bn, Dr Lockhart believes scientific research

could help to protect much more of the ocean

There will always be those countries that block consensus

because they claim a lack of knowledge

So, if we can go into those remote areas and collect evidence

then it makes it very hard for them to dispute the fact

that we need protections

The ocean is under threat as a result of human activity

Could one way of protecting it focus on how people live on land?

I’d spend $1bn on batteries

Doug McCauley is a professor of marine biology

at the University of California Santa Barbara

I know it’s a little bit strange for a marine biologist to suggest batteries

But indeed, that’s precisely where I would put my investment

Professor McCauley has pioneered the use of technology

in the conservation of some of the world’s most-endangered marine species

The challenge for a marine biologist is that

you’re doing all these things and you must do these things and they matter

And yet looming behind you is this master threat to the oceans: climate change

Climate change is causing the ocean to overheat

increasing the level of acidity and reducing the oxygen content of the water

So, what could batteries do to help us fight climate change?

They’re essentially the most important ingredient in a low-carbon future

And it’s because they are the storehouses for the slow carbon-energy

that we need to capture

The world relies on lithium-ion batteries

Green technology is being developed around their use

But this type of battery requires minerals like cobalt

which have a controversial supply chain

To meet the growing demand for batteries

mining companies are turning their attention to the deep sea

There’s a lot of uncertainty in the ocean-science community

about exactly what ocean mining would do to ocean ecosystems

But I can tell you the uncertainty is about how bad mining will be for our seas

not whether it will be good

Batteries are essential to reducing CO2 emissions

Professor McCauley wants radical innovation

to invest the $1bn in designing powerful next-generation batteries

Ones which won’t depend on mining the sea

When we are able to come up with an alternative to a lithium-ion battery

then the cost of electric vehicles will come crashing down

The faster we can bring that low-carbon future to us

the more likely it is that we see a reduction in extinction in the oceans

and major disruptions to ocean health

Living in an ocean-obsessed household

Doug’s seven-year-old son, Finn, has his thoughts about

where he’d spend the money

I’d put $1m dollars
—You get $1bn actually

$1bn to save the vaquita

The vaquita is a type of porpoise on the brink of extinction

Only ten individuals still remain in the wild

I think you should just save them and then

maybe you’d save like 30 other species

that need the vaquita for their food chain

Peter Thomson is the United Nations special envoy for the ocean

I would take that $1bn and I would direct it into education

His mission is to galvanise the international community

to prioritise ocean conservation

There’s a fundamental disconnect between what we know in ocean science

and what the majority of the population knows

When you think of things like every second breath

of oxygen you take comes from the ocean

This should be one of the fundamental things

that we are learning about in our daily life

The ocean regulates the planet’s climate

it provides the main food source to nearly half the global population

and underpins trillions of dollars-worth of economic activity worldwide

If you give people that knowledge

they’re going to start making the right decisions

And not just individuals, but communities, governments

and international bodies, have to be supplied with the right science

There is no single solution to the multitude of threats facing the ocean

And it will take more than $1bn to drive change

A man-made disaster is what faces us and what we are having to deal with

Only through reshaping the way humanity lives and uses the ocean

can this vital part of planet Earth be saved

And that will take not just the creativity of individuals

but the collaboration of nations

People won’t care about things that they don’t know about

and have never seen And that your first job

is to make clear what a wonderful world the natural world is

If you would like to find out more about

some of the greatest challenges facing the ocean

and the people trying to solve them

including some of those you have just seen in this film

then please click on the link opposite

For more on The Protectors series, click the other link

Thank you for watching and please subscribe

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