Malta returns to the global stage on ocean protection

With Our Ocean 2017, Malta is returning to the global stage

50 years ago, Malta stood proudly on the global stage on Ocean protection. At the United Nations in 1967, Malta’s own Arvid Pardo became known as the ‘father of the law of the sea conference’. This conference, and Pardo’s work, set in place the laws that still govern our planet’s seas and oceans.

Now, with Our Ocean 2017, Malta is returning to the global stage.

As European Commissioner for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, I am deeply honoured to jointly host the 4th edition of the Our Ocean conference on 5-6 October. I will host Our Ocean with the EU foreign policy representative, Federica Mogherini.

We chose the Azure window as symbol of this edition. It was a stark reminder of the transience of things. It is also an urgent call to make sure we protect what we can.

And we think that the calibre of international guests the EU has drawn to Malta will do just that – protect our ocean: Ocean champions like His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, Queen Noor of Jordan, Prince Albert II of Monaco and former US Secretary of State John Kerry, the founder of the Our Ocean series.

Ten million tonnes of litter are dumped in the sea every year – 400 kilos per second! In some areas, micro plastics outnumber plankton by six to one

Global ocean leaders all.

Together with researchers, the NGO community and entrepreneurs, they are here to make sure we use our ocean in productive, sustainable ways. Ways that guarantee its long term future, and ours.  

I’m sure that, just like me, you are frustrated by the growing presence of plastic in our ocean. Be it full bags, or even containers, or microscopic ‘beads’, it all adds up to a serious problem. Our approach is to act local and global.

Impressive work by the Malta National Aquarium to promote a plastic free ocean has been supported by the European Commission and the US Department of State.

The example has been matched by aquariums all over the world. They are part of a worldwide campaign to educate millions about the danger of plastic waste.

Their actions are just one of the many acts that have been inspired by the Our Ocean conference.

The private sector commitments we will see over the next two days are the biggest endorsement of Our Ocean’s progess, and its success.

The global community needs to do more and we are driving areas of action where we are seeking commitments.

For example, international law requires a minimum of 10% of marine and coastal areas to be effectively protected by 2020. Today, only 5% of marine and coastal areas are protected by law, and less than 1% is fully enforced.  Expect big announcements at our conference.

Over-exploitation of fish has already removed up to 90% of the larger species from the world’s oceans. At the same time, the scourge of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) represents up to €10 billion annually (up to 15% of the global catch). Expect new actions.

And as plastic litter and urban waste are accumulating worldwide at an alarming rate, 10 million tonnes of litter are dumped in the sea every year – 400 kilos per second! In some areas, micro plastics already outnumber plankton by six to one and by 2050 there could be more plastic than fish in our ocean. The EU is leading the way on designing tough new measures.

Malta is now part of the Our Ocean family. And as part of that family we now have a duty to keep the pressure high for lasting commitments.

I hope you get a chance to watch the conference unfold over the coming days. You will be able to watch as Malta writes a new chapter in its ocean history. I think Arvid Pardo would be proud.

Karmenu Vella is European Commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries

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