A 10-step plan to save our seas

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Douglas McCauley, Professor, University of California Santa Barbara; Director, Benioff Ocean Initiative


  • 2050 is predicted to be a bleak milestone for the oceans – but it’s not too late to avert disaster.
  • Here are 10 actions the world can take to strengthen and preserve our oceans for generations to come.

The year 2050 has been predicted by some to be a bleak year for the ocean. Experts say that by 2050 there may be more plastic than fish in the sea, or perhaps only plastic left. Others say 90% of our coral reefs may be dead, waves of mass marine extinction may be unleashed, and our seas may be left overheated, acidified and lacking oxygen.

It is easy to forget that 2050 is not that far off. Kids we see building sandcastles on the beach today might be gaining traction in their jobs and perhaps starting their own families. The possibility that our children may inherit from us such a broken and diminished ocean is hard to accept.

Such a future, however, is not yet written in stone. A healthier, more whole, and maybe even more profitable future ocean may still be within reach – at least for a little while.

Two visions of the ocean's future. Which will we choose?
Two visions of the ocean’s future. Which will we choose? Image: Nicolle Fuller

Here are 10 steps that could take us towards a more desirable ocean future:

1. Freeze the warming. Stopping climate change is the hardest but most important step we can take for ocean health. It is good news to have the US back in the Paris Agreement. However, we now need ambitious national commitments to achieve carbon neutrality from all signatories of the Agreement. Recent actions by China, the EU, Japan and the UK are also positive.

2. Walk the talk. We need to make these carbon neutrality commitments real. This will require massive new investment in renewable energy sources, including some more experimental solutions (such as fusion), plus potentially looking with open minds into making older low-carbon energy solutions safer and more viable (such as traditional nuclear). We need to fast-track the development of sustainable next-generation batteries to store this energy intelligently across our grids. This includes major needs for marine energy infrastructure. A future, for example, with electrified ports and low-emission ships would help eliminate the epidemic of deafening ocean noise, address environmental injustices associated with pollution in ports, make oil spills a thing of the past, and significantly reduce global emissions.

A NASA model showing CO2 (the yellow/red swirls) moving across the globe
A NASA model showing CO2 (the yellow/red swirls) moving across the globe Image: NASA

3. Blue revolution. The ‘green revolution’ – a massive ramping up of food production on land in the 1950s – has belatedly reached the sea. Ocean farming, or aquaculture, has increased by more than 1,000% in the ocean recently. The green revolution was sloppily executed, and the first baby steps of the blue revolution have included similar stumbles: chemical pollution, genetic pollution and habitat destruction. But the blue revolution can still clean up its act. Farming in the right places, with the right species, and the right practices could make aquaculture a win for human and environmental health. Ocean food research (into plant-based and cell-based seafood, for example) could also help us meet growing demand for seafood sustainably.

We still haven't met the 2020 goal of protecting 10% of the ocean. Can we hit 30% by 2030?
We still haven’t met the 2020 goal of protecting 10% of the ocean. Can we hit 30% by 2030? Image: Protected Planet

4. 30 x 30. Parks protect some of our most important chunks of nature on land – our Yellowstones and Serengetis. We are vastly behind setting up parks in the sea. We need to follow through on calls to protect 30% of our ocean by 2030. This must be as much about quality as quantity. We need to use intelligent planning algorithms and the intelligence of local and indigenous people to select the very best 30% of the sea to protect. Then the hard work begins. We must develop and deploy new technology to monitor and protect the living assets we put in these ocean savings accounts.

5. The other 70%. An ocean industrial revolution is beginning. Human industry is growing at exponential rates in the sea. Even if we succeed in protecting 30% of the ocean, we must still intelligently zone and manage this accelerated anthropogenic growth in the majority of our unprotected ocean. We largely missed that boat on land. Proactive steps to sustainably onboard an ocean industrial revolution include responsibly managing wild capture fisheries (and making more money in the process), carefully zoning what marine industries go where, eliminating harmful fisheries subsidies, and coming to grips with the fact that some new marine industries, like ocean mining, are simply too dangerous to be allowed into the ocean.

6. Big cracks in the sea. Most of the ocean belongs to us all. This includes the two-thirds of the ocean in the high seas that lies beyond all nations’ ocean borders and the marine regions surrounding Antarctica. Protection of biodiversity and equitable sharing of resources has slipped through antiquated governance gaps in these international ocean spaces. But a proposed new UN Treaty for high seas biodiversity – and negotiations to sustainably manage and protect Antarctic waters could help.

7. End plastic pollution. Plastic pollution is the ocean’s new cancer. We need to ban unnecessary plastics and tax other single use plastics, finally making them valuable materials we want to recover and helping to pay for the full cost of their environmental impacts. We need research and tech to prevent plastics from leaking into the sea, to overhaul our recycling systems, and to design economically viable alternatives to plastics. This progress may be accelerated by a proposed international ‘Paris Agreement’ for plastic pollution.

8. Land. We can help the ocean by first setting a few things right on land. We must massively increase our ambition to save our forests, thus locking up a huge chunk of carbon dioxide. We need to stop wastefully spilling megatons of costly fertilizers into rivers that are creating hundreds of marine dead zones. Precision agriculture that optimizes fertilizer use, coupled with other farming reform practices can help.

An algal bloom seen in Lake St. Clair, between Michigan and Ontario, in 2015
An algal bloom seen in Lake St. Clair, between Michigan and Ontario, in 2015 Image: NASA

9. Wired ocean. We need more ocean data. This includes new tech to detect illegal fishing and connect sustainable fishers to consumers. We need tech to help endangered marine wildlife co-exist with ocean industry and fleets of environmental sensors above and below the water to better study our rapidly changing ocean.

The Wave Glider: This unmanned craft uses wave energy to collect and share ocean data
The Wave Glider: This unmanned craft uses wave energy to collect and share ocean data Image: Liquid Robotics

10. Ocean equity. To build a healthy ocean, we must ensure all people have a fair stake in its success and that they are no longer unevenly harmed by ocean health risks. The fate of the ocean will affect people in all communities. Thus, we need people from all communities in ocean science, management, and policy.

Fulfilling the apocalyptic predictions for a 2050 ocean will be all too easy. Altering that ocean future may be one of the hardest things we’ve ever collectively achieved. But the consequences of inaction will be even harder to shoulder – for us and our ocean.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

In the future of work it’s jobs, not people, that will become redundant

‘Right to disconnect’ should be an EU-wide fundamental right, MEPs say

The refugee crisis brings to light EU’s most horrible flaws and nightmares

Myanmar Government side-lining democratic reform, resorting to military era repression: UN expert

Around 52 million in Near East, North Africa, suffering chronic undernourishment, new UN food agency report reveals

Missile strike kills at least 12 civilians, including children, in Syria’s Idlib: UN humanitarians

INTERVIEW: ‘Defend the people, not the States’, says outgoing UN human rights chief

Why law enforcement and businesses need to join forces to fight global cybercrime

Reasons to hope and reasons to keep perspective on a vaccine

UK’s Cameron takes the field to speed up TTIP talks. Will “rocket boosters” work?

Five cities short-listed to become the European Youth Capital 2017

Fostering global citizenship in medicine

250+ senior claims leaders under one roof, exchanging transformation strategy

Over 80 per cent of schools in anglophone Cameroon shut down, as conflict worsens

Draghi: A bridge from Brussels to Berlin

Sudan: New political transition, bolstered by peacebuilding, could bring long-term stability to Darfur, Security Council told

State aid: Commission approves €24.7 million of Italian support to compensate Alitalia for further damages suffered due to coronavirus outbreak

European Development Days 2013

What lies ahead for the Korean Peninsula?

“France will be there, it will always be there!”, French President Hollande says in a rather disorganised speech; the Sting reports live from World Economic Forum 2015 in Davos

Seaweed, enzymes and compostable cups: Can ‘Big Food’ take on plastic and win?

UK’s May stresses global cooperation at UN General Assembly

Sustainable finance: Commission publishes guidelines to improve how firms report climate-related information and welcomes three new important reports on climate finance by leading experts

Why is black plastic packaging so hard to recycle?

Gender-Based Violence and HIV/SRHR – The commonly ignored linkages we need to open our eyes for

Strengthening the rule of law through increased awareness, an annual monitoring cycle and more effective enforcement

Venezuela: MEPs call for free and fair elections in the crisis-torn country

How impact finance can alleviate COVID-19’s economic symptoms

Ghana will grow faster than any other economy this year, the IMF says why

ITU Telecom World 2016: it’s all about working together

We have solutions to crime. We just need to scale them

In New Zealand it takes less than a day to start a business

To win combat against HIV worldwide, ‘knowledge is power’, says UNAIDS report

‘Starvation’ now a reality for displaced Syrians stranded in camp near Jordanian border

White Coat, Stained red

The Sahel is engulfed by violence. Climate change, food insecurity and extremists are largely to blame

In the future, no one should be excluded from healthcare

The scary EU elections result and the delayed Council’s repentance

Caravan of Mothers of Missing Migrants kick off a global migration search movement

Mental health in the pandemic: how to stay emotionally stable?

On sidelines of UN climate summit, US President calls for protection of religious freedom

Science is ‘key’ to pushing forward the 2030 Agenda, UN development forum told

End Syria fighting to avoid ‘even greater humanitarian catastrophe’

Terrorist content online should be removed within one hour, says EP

The Junior Enterprise concept: Business & Education

Summer 2018 Interim Economic Forecast: Resilient Growth amid increased uncertainty

Business management: how can you introduce new ideas?

New ECB boss quizzed for the first time by Economic Affairs Committee

Fit for Future platform selects EU initiatives for simplification and modernisation

To recruit younger people, you have to understand them. Here’s a guide

New technologies, artificial intelligence aid fight against global terrorism

Elections in Britain may reserve a surprise for May’s Tories

A good night’s sleep ‘washes’ your brain, scientists say

Health professionals: the frontline in the fight against the Covid-19

Mexico must increase foreign bribery enforcement: full implementation of anti-corruption reforms could help

Draghi hands over to banks €77.7 billion more

Fail fast, fail better: 3 ways companies can master innovation

EU to Turkey: No other ties than €3+3bn to upkeep refugees

Venezuela: UN human rights office calls for ‘maximum restraint’ by authorities in face of new demonstrations

Why Italy will not follow the Greek road; Eurozone to change or unravel

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s