Making the oceans everybody’s concern | Karmenu Vella

It is through ocean literacy that we can grow to appreciate the magnitude of the services oceans provide to us, and the seriousness of man-made impacts

Last Friday the European Union and the EU4Ocean coalition kick started in Malta a series of ocean literacy activities around the Mediterranean. I was honoured to open the event, not only because they chose to embark on this ocean literacy journey from Malta, but even more so, because these series of events are a continuation of a number of initiatives that were founded during my tenure in office as EU Commissioner.

Back in 2014, the sustainability of our ocean, the health of our seas, were not at the centre-stage of political discussions. Rarely did they feature in public debates and little did we hear about them if not regarding the fisheries aspect. So together with DG MARE we worked relentlessly to ensure that we bring to fore our ocean and the need to ensure its sustainable management into political discussions. Not only within the Commission, other European Institutions, and at Member States level, but also at an international level.

Along the way, we could not but realise that our mission to ensure the health and sustainability of our seas required much more than just political attention. Yes, political will is vital, but the decisions taken at political level are only half the battle. We needed to have everybody on board: politicians; business leaders; the media; our maritime stakeholders; as well as citizens and young people. So, we stepped up our efforts on ocean literacy at every level.

Our oceans count for 70% of our planet’s surface. They provide half the world’s oxygen; absorb more than a third of our emissions and 90% of the planet’s heat; host more than half of the planet’s biodiversity; they are the prime climate regulator; provide most of our food; and present endless economic opportunities. It is through ocean literacy that we can grow to appreciate the magnitude of the services oceans provide to us, and the seriousness of man-made impacts. It is through ocean literacy that public opinion can shift in favour of protecting the oceans’ natural capital, its spectacular biodiversity, and its role in regulating our planet.

On Saturday we celebrated the Mediterranean Coast Day. The objective of this yearly celebration is not just to appreciate the richness of the Sea that surrounds us, but more importantly to raise awareness on the need to have and maintain a healthy and sustainable Sea. To raise the red flag and resonate our call for action and to enhance our knowledge about the Sea that surrounds our coast.

The Mediterranean Sea forms only 1% of the planet’s oceans. Despite its limited size, it is home to 10% of all the species that exist within our ocean and is home to more than 500 million people living along its coast. In addition, it hosts more than 300 million international tourists, that is 30% of the total world tourist arrivals, on a yearly basis. From 1960 to date the population along the Mediterranean coast has more than doubled in size. This means that environmental pressures on our Sea have increased considerably. Thousands of tonnes of plastic waste are dumped into this Sea, on a yearly basis, and in certain areas, concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) exceed 100μg/m3 compared to the global average of 40 μg/m3.

Our unsustainable actions are pushing the seas beyond their limits. Consequently, we are threatening our own existence and that of the millions of other species that depend on them. In our battle to minimise these pressures we need to ensure that every human being, especially younger generations, develop knowledge about their dependency on the ocean.

Scientists and researchers work tirelessly to deepen our knowledge of the ocean. Exciting new discoveries are being made almost every day. We must ensure that this knowledge is passed on to our children and grandchildren, the ocean champions of tomorrow. They will be far more knowledgeable than we are today, and they will in turn pass on the responsibility for our oceans’ well-being to their own children and grandchildren. So, I urge everyone to continue spreading the word. To awaken our love of the oceans, including the Mediterranean Sea, and to inspire every human being to act.

Karmenu Vella is a former European Commissioner