It is time for a global ocean rescue plan

By Sally Campbell


We have a unique opportunity to agree a global rescue plan for the oceans and their incredible life, bringing them back from the brink of collapse caused by the climate crisis, overfishing, pollution and the search for oil and minerals in the seabed.
The good news? This year, we have a unique window of opportunity to address climate breakdown, wildlife loss and to ensure ocean protection at a global scale, through a string of events with international political decision-makers. This is what we need governments around the world to do:

1. Raise the ambition of their national greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets.
2. Commit to protecting at least 30% of the oceans by 2030 with a network of fully protected ocean sanctuaries.
3. Agree a strong Global Ocean Treaty at the UN in 2021 to provide a mechanism to meet number 2!


Actor Marion Cotillard on board Arctic Sunrise in Paradise Harbour Antarctica ©Abbie Trayler-Smith/Greenpeace

Global awareness of the severe problems facing our oceans has skyrocketed in recent years. From plastic pollution to overfishing and dying coral reefs few weeks go by without another horror story of the decline of the deep blue and its wildlife. But alongside the growing awareness is a surging demand by people around the world, including Arran, to protect the seas, both inshore and high seas. We do want to secure healthy oceans for future generations, don’t we? Despite the Pandemic, concern for the economy of Arran, austerity, Brexit and the endless difficult news from Holyrood and Westminster, America, and heat in Siberia, we need to lift our voices, and pens to the safeguarding of the Oceans. Here’s why….

Two urgent reminders just this week in July 2020:
1. Ecuador has sounded the alarm after its navy discovered a huge fishing fleet of mostly Chinese-flagged vessels some 200 miles from the Galápagos Islands, the archipelago which inspired Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. About 260 ships are currently in international waters just outside a 188-mile wide exclusive economic zone around the island, but their presence has already raised the prospect of serious damage to the delicate marine ecosystem. A former environment minister, Yolanda Kakabadse is quoted “This fleet’s size and aggressiveness against marine species is a big threat to the balance of species in the Galápagos,” Chinese vessels travel to the region each year in search of marine species. In 2017, a Chinese vessel was caught in the marine reserve with 300 tonnes of wildlife, most of it sharks. “We are on alert, conducting surveillance, patrolling to avoid an incident such as what happened in 2017,” said Ecuadorean Defence Minister Oswaldo Jarrin and Ecuador will hold consultations with other Latin American countries with a coastline on the Pacific – Colombia, Peru, Chile, Panama and Costa Rica – in order to form a joint regional position concerning the “threat”. “Because of natural wealth in that area, we suffer immense pressure from international fishing fleets.” The Galapagos Marine Reserve boasts large numbers of shark species, including endangered whale and hammerheads. The Galapagos Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage site renowned worldwide for their unique array of plants and wildlife.

2. Illegal fishing is one of the ongoing major threat to the Oceans, their ecosystems and the communities that live and depend on fishing for their main food resources. Another recent, ongoing, disturbing story illustrates overfishing, human rights violations and the power of large fishing fleets. This tells the story of battered wooden “ghost boats” that drift through the Sea of Japan for months, their only cargo the corpses of starved North Korean fishermen whose bodies have been reduced to skeletons. Last year more than 150 of these macabre vessels washed ashore in Japan, and there have been more than 500 in the past five years. Now research with satellite tracking data shows China is sending a previously invisible armada of industrial boats to illegally fish in North Korean waters, violently displacing smaller North Korean boats and spearheading a decline in once-abundant squid stocks of more than 70 percent. A disturbing story of overfishing, illegal fishing, huge lights, displacement and human rights violations.

We need big changes to the very system of ocean governance itself, to reduce the daily plundering of the oceans and give wildlife breathing space to recover. That kind of fundamental change to how humanity is interacting with the ocean needs a global agreement. The plan is clear and powerful: create a vast network of fully protected ocean sanctuaries across this blue planet of ours, our public resource. The good thing is that governments are committing to this vision, actions that are fast becoming the benchmark of how serious they are about protecting marine life. Governments and NGOs at well-respected IUCN World Conservation Congress in 2016 adopted a resolution calling on governments to:

“…urgently increase the ocean area that is effectively and equitably managed in ecologically representative and well-connected systems of MPAs or other effective conservation measures. This network should target protection of both biodiversity and ecosystem services and should include at least 30% of each marine habitat. The ultimate aim is to create a fully sustainable ocean, at least 30% of which has no extractive activities.”

At the time, an overwhelming number of governments (129) and NGOs (621) voted in favour, with only 16 and 37 respectively against the resolution. So things are looking relatively promising and expectations are high as governments are set to decide on formalising this target this year. So what will successful conservation of the ocean look like? Two key elements: a major expansion and linking of ocean sanctuaries to create a global network, and ensuring those areas are off-limits to all harmful industrial activities, i.e. ‘fully protected’. So much of the global oceans need to be protected to:

1. represent biological diversity
2. ensure ecological connectivity
3. avoid population collapse
4. avoid adverse evolution induced by fisheries
5. enhance fisheries yield
6. meet the needs of multiple stakeholder groups.

To meet these 6 measures, the median and mean average protection needed were 35% and 37% respectively. As the climate crisis unfolds, ocean sanctuaries increase the coping capacity of marine life to the multiple stresses unleashed by climate change, ocean acidification and deoxygenation. Fully protected ocean sanctuaries, off-limits to harmful human activities, allow us to better manage the risks of how climate change will continue to impact us and our oceans. Moreover, establishing a global network of ocean sanctuaries is vital to safeguarding natural stores of CO2 (carbon dioxide) in the ocean (‘blue carbon’). It would help to keep the planet healthy, and protect the livelihoods of the millions of people who depend on healthy oceans to survive. Protecting at least 30% of the ocean by 2030 would therefore make the climate crisis “slower and less damaging” to both nature and people. Protection of productivity and diversity of marine life in this way ensures a sustainable yield of vital food resources for the future. The alternative is fatal decline as has happened in our own Firth of Clyde

A year-long collaboration between Greenpeace International and the universities of York and Oxford created a comprehensive picture of what this level of protection would look like in the global ocean, outside national boundaries. The resulting report and map are here: 30×30: A Blueprint For Ocean Protection or explore the global network of ocean sanctuaries. Another of the Greenpeace reports, In Hot Water: The Climate Crisis and the Urgent Need for Ocean Protection introduced a climate lens and identified those ocean ecosystems most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, recommending priority areas for protection. These include the Arctic and Antarctic, whale hotspots, coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass meadows, the Sargasso Sea in the Atlantic, the mesopelagic zone and the deep ocean, which the report specifically states should remain off-limits to the creeping deep sea mining industry.

If we are to make this vision a reality, we first need the mechanisms in place to be able to designate these marine protected areas, outside of national waters. When governments meet at the UN ( to agree a Global Ocean Treaty, it is essential that it does just that: enable the creation of a fully protected global network of ocean sanctuaries. Thankfully political support for 30×30 is growing, with 18 governments already backing it. We must do all we can to encourage the UK to be active participants, showing leadership to Commonwealth Countries and beyond. Please make your voice heard (see petition on as we are in the last chance saloon for our oceans, their unique ecosystems, and the urgent need to minimise climate change.

With thanks to Greenpeace.

Sally Campbell
July 2020