Basic info on Ocean governance

Evaluation of the value of Ocean resources and services

Through history, the Ocean has always been a crucial issue: its geopolitical interest lies in the fact that the control of maritime routes allowed military and commercial supremacy. For a long time, a freedom-of-the-sea doctrine prevailed.

But pressures increased in the 20th century due to exploitation of resources, pollution threats, and increasing navigation. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) was adopted in 1982. It defines limits of national jurisdiction on Ocean, access to seas, navigation, scientific research, protection of marine environment, living resources exploitation, legal status of resources on the seabed beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, and settlement of conflicts.
In the past, the worth of the sea and coastal ecosystems has usually been evaluated by the resources they provide (fish and other living resources, mineral resources, gravel, mangrove wood, chemicals extracted from marine organisms…) but the value of the other services that the Ocean provides have been ignored: recreation and tourism economy, social benefits (employment) and ecological benefits like:

  • regulating the Earth’s climate and participating in water cycle;
  • receiving and treating waste;
  • protecting coastlines against tsunamis and waves;
  • producing oxygen by vegetal plankton;
  • and being a reservoir of biodiversity.

Gradually, managers, policy-makers and citizens are starting to recognize the value of these services provided by the oceans to the Earth and its people.

International law and conventions and their limits

International law and conventions and their limits

The Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ refers to the coastal waters that lie adjacent to the coast and extend 200 nautical miles offshore. They are under the jurisdictions and control of the adjacent country. The 10 Largest Territorial Powers (with the biggest sea claims) are USA, France, Australia, Russia, Canada, China, Brazil, Indonesia, India, and New Zealand. Given their limited national budget and small populations, it is difficult for small island States and developing countries to provide the financial and human resources necessary to manage their marine territories. The rest of the oceans, or high waters, are free to be exploited by all countries under constraints of UNCLOS.

A large number of political initiatives took place during the last decade (Marpol, UNCLOS, Agenda 21, Convention on Transport of Hazardous Waste, Convention on Biological Diversity, UN Convention On Climate Change, Global Plan of Action for Protection of Marine Environment from Land-Based Sources, Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, London Dumping Convention, …) but most of them have difficulties to respond to their goals and are not being implemented in a coordinated way. The lack of political will and means of control are the first reasons for this. Most developing countries are also under economic and social stress and are forced to give a relatively low priority to protecting the environment and conserving natural resources even though this might undermine their long-term sustainable development.

For example, free and open access to fisheries in the high seas encourages overfishing. The adoption in 1995 of a global agreement on Straddling and Highly Migratory Fish Stocks and a Code of Conduct for Responsible Fishing shows that many countries are now taking more seriously the threats to high seas living resources. For regulation of marine transport, two conventions for safety at sea exists (SOLAS for Safety of Life at Sea and MARPOL to fight pollution). But for example, monitoring of illegal oil discharge is not enough: it will be useful on the condition that offenders caught in action are punished.

Towards a new vision for Ocean governance

Towards a new vision for Ocean governance

The signing of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, in 1982, marked the first major political step towards the idea that oceans are a common heritage of mankind. The Agenda 21 that was adopted at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the GPA (Global Plan of Action) for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities that was adopted in 1995, also recognize that freshwater, land, coasts and seas are linked. The international community agrees today on the fact that environmental problems of the seas can not be solved without taking in consideration proper management of coasts and land. Implementation of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) would allow a more sustainable coastal zone management with the participation of all involved agents and the reduction of conflicts of interests. Global governance of the oceans can be efficient if management is organized at the level of Large Marine Ecosystems that cover coasts, adjacent seas, estuaries, and freshwater without following national borders. The regulation of high seas will also be essential to prevent irremediable degradation of their resources only to the benefit of the few countries that can afford to exploit them. In 2000 and again in 2005, the Millennium Development Goals called for improved cooperation and coordination at all levels to address oceans and seas issues and promoted integrated management and sustainable development of the oceans and seas.

Sources and links

about Ocean governance

Facts and figures

about Ocean governance

What we can do about

Ocean governance issues  ?