Protecting the world's oceans: three key tasks

To mark World Oceans Day on 8 June, IIED director Andrew Norton sets out three ways the international community can protect marine and coastal environments.

News, 08 June 2016

Oceans cover three quarters of the Earth's surface, contain 97 per cent of the Earth's water, and represent 99 per cent of the living space on the planet by volume. World Oceans Day is held each year on 8 June in order to highlight the essential contribution of the oceans to the survival of all life, and to recognise the challenges we face in protecting them.

In a video to mark World Oceans Day, IIED director Andrew Norton has set out three key priorities for protecting oceans and the people who depend on them. 

Norton highighted >the value of oceans and coastlines in a recent blog, noting their critical importance both for the livelihoods of the world's poorest people, and for the preservation of our planet.

Norton says ;a key priority is to understand the value of coastlines as an important part of ocean ecosystems.  

He says: "We need to understand their value for livelihoods. We need to understand their value for the protection for human settlements and coastlines – and coastal ecosystems, wetlands, marshlands, coral reefs and mangroves are phenomenally effective at protecting coastlines from storm surge."

The second priority that Norton identifies is getting poor people who work in coastal environments to engage in protecting oceans and coastal ecosystems. Norton notes that this may involve helping poor communities to cope with short-term impacts on their livelihoods in order to provide a long-term benefit for themselves and for the global community. 

IIED has been undertaking research on how economic incentives help encourage the sustainable management of marine and coastal resources. Recently IIED and partners completed a study of  Bangladesh's efforts to improve the sustainability of its hilsa fishing industry.

Common heritage for humanity

The third task Norton highlights is the need to develop a global, legally binding international treaty for the governance of the open oceans. Territorial waters are codified in the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, but it was only last year that the UN adopted a resolution on the need for a global regime for areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Norton says: "This is a new thing, but it's a very important thing. At the moment half of our planet does not have a governance farmework.

"At IIED we want to see this process roll forward with a view to establishing the resources of the open oceans as a kind of common heritage for humanity."

Related reading

IIED has published a range of reports on encouraging sustainable fisheries and valuing marine and coastal ecosystems:


Essam Yassin Mohammed ([email protected]), senior researcher (environmental economics), in IIED's Sustainable Markets Group