08/06/17Global Issues 

World Oceans Day 2017: “Our Oceans, Our Future”

From ridge to deep – protecting both oceans and freshwater from pollution – getting two birds with one stone

 

Today, 8th of June, 2017, is World Oceans Day. It is a global day of ocean celebration and collaboration for a better future. With the overall theme for World Oceans Day 2017 is “Our Oceans, Our Future“. This day aims to focus on encouraging solutions to plastic pollution and preventing marine litter for a healthier ocean and a better future.

This day also marks the mid-point of the first Ocean Conference taking place in New York from 5th to 9th of June. AquaFed and its Members are contributing to the work of the conference to further the knowledge they have of protecting the oceans and to show the results that they can achieve improving the condition of the seas and coastlines where they work.

 

AquaFed highlights the dimension of protecting the oceans from land based pollution

 

The water molecule links oceans and freshwater, the Sustainable Development Goals 14 and 6. Both liquid and solid pollutants resulting from activities on land enter the oceans. There is a continuum of these pollutants that ranges from dissolved chemicals, through pathogens, and small particles to large objects. All states need policies and programmes that work on both prevention and removal of pollution in freshwater. This is because it is vitally important in itself and also because much of that pollution eventually ends up in the oceans. Misused fertilizer in the uplands can lead to algal blooms in the sea that can add to climate change provoking devastating storms and floods.

 

Preventing pollution in freshwater therefore has the double benefit of protecting both the freshwater and marine environment.

 

Better protection of the oceans from land based pollution is achievable

 

AquaFed’s Members work on pollution prevention and removal on behalf of the public authorities and private clients that engage them. This is their routine work. In many places, it has a specific objective of protecting the oceans and the coastal environments.

These activities include:

  • Wastewater Management – they collect and de-pollute municipal and industrial wastewater to return it safely to the natural environment, thus they eliminate or reduce pollution transported to the oceans. Examples where impressive and quick results have been achieved include Algiers, Barcelona, Gdansk, Rostock, Tangiers.
  • Storm-water management and flood protection – they collect, regulate, screen, and treat surface water thus they eliminate or reduce pollution transported to the oceans. Examples include, Biarritz, Bordeaux, Bremen, Casablanca  
  • Solid waste management – many Members also collect and process municipal, industrial and special wastes preventing them entering the drains, collectors, rivers and ultimately the sea. They also clean streets and public areas to prevent many polluting items such as plastic bags and bottles entering the water cycle and eventually the oceans.
  • Materials recovery – they recover and recycle materials and energy from liquid and solid waste streams thus contributing to the ‘circular economy’ and preventing these materials polluting the oceans.
  • Collaboration with others – Through R&D, Technical advice, joint action with other stakeholders – agriculture, industry, public authorities, philanthropists, NGOs, etc. – they support better understanding, behaviour change and develop new solutions and techniques.

 

All of this helps and shows that better protection of the oceans from land based pollution is achievable. However, globally, much more needs to be done. The pollution load due to diffuse sources, mostly arising from land based agriculture is even less well quantified. The environmental, social and economic damage that results must amount to trillions. Every day, the oceans are becoming more and more polluted with innumerable adverse consequences. Today’s best estimates are that 90% of used water is discharged to the environment without any treatment.

 

All service operators, no matter whether public or private must be supported with national and local policies, actions, investment and behaviour change. Political engagement must work on both prevention and removal of water pollution.

 

AquaFed is a partner of UN-Water and had the privilege of working in the UN-Water Taskforce on developing advice to the Member States and the Open Working Group (OWG) on the water SDG#6 (see UN-Water Document). At the OWG AquaFed called for a ‘dedicated’ not a ‘stand-alone’ goal for water, because water connects all the SDGs.

 

Diffuse pollution, the hidden and the biggest cause of ocean pollution

 

In the context of protecting the oceans, let us not forget diffuse pollution. The UN-Water advice to Member States on the necessity to deal with diffuse pollution did not make it to the final SDG agreement. The true scale and impact of diffuse pollution, mostly from agriculture, but also from urban run-off, is unknown and unmeasured. It is almost certainly the biggest cause of ocean pollution. This remains a blind spot that requires serious attention, to protect both the freshwater and the ocean environment.

 

Let´s take action - prevention is better than cure

 

It is said that dealing with ocean problems is difficult politically, because most of the oceans are over the horizon and the problems under the surface. Freshwater issues in contrast, are everywhere. so they end up being nowhere in political responsibility. An important objective of The Ocean Conference and World Oceans Day is to give these issues greater visibility, engage policy makers and other stakeholders to make firm commitments and take action to improve the situation before it is too late. Once again, the old adage that prevention is better than cure is a wise and practical approach. Protecting the oceans is much easier and cheaper than cleaning them up once they have been polluted. It can be done and with the double benefit of cleaning up the freshwater and land environments at the same time. Freshwater and salt water are connected, land environment and marine environment are, too.