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Asia-Pacific Regional Cooperation Need of the Hour to Save its Fragile Oceans



Asia-Pacific region

Asia-Pacific region encompasses vast variations of climate and topography ranging from the Himalayas to the coral reefs, from arctic to tropical regions. The region stretches from Mongolia on the Northern side to New Zealand on the South, and from the island states of Oceania in the East to Pakistan on the Western side, making it home to about half of the world’s population.

However, the oceans and its resources, which are lifelines to the Asia-Pacific region, are becoming fragile and deteriorating owing to climate change and marine pollution. In a report released by the United Nations Economic Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (UNESCAP), it has been stated that unsustainable economic challenges such as overfishing and marine plastic pollution, clubbed together with climate change, are posing grave threats to the health of the region’s marine ecosystems.

Communities that depend on coastal fisheries are facing an existential crisis due to the impact of climate change on ocean life. A critical drop in pH and oxygen is being observed across regional oceans, sea levels are rising, key habitats like coral reefs and coastal mangroves are depleting and this chain of events has put countless communities, which depend on oceans for survival, at a prospective threat of existence. 

The report – Changing Sails: Accelerating Regional Actions for Sustainable Oceans in Asia and the Pacific – has asserted that the COVID-19 slowdown measures such as worldwide lockdown have potentially provided a window of opportunity for recovery of the oceans which can take place through cross-border cooperation on the alarming issue. Reduced human activity and months of business shutdowns have resulted in the reduction of carbon emissions and the recovery of fishing stocks.

Keeping in view of these developments, UNESCAP Executive Secretary Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana has called for creating a “new reality” built upon sustainability and resilience for the oceans in the post-Coronavirus world. Asia-Pacific oceans account for the bulk of global shipping and port operations. Therefore, the UN report has also propounded that the COVID-19 pandemic presents a good “opportunity to incorporate environmental agendas to the new policies that will shape future shipping and maritime connectivity.”

It is also important to note that there is a shortage of meaningful data on ocean heath across the region which hinders the understanding and management of the crisis by the authorities. Furthermore, there is a lack of regional collaboration and expertise in areas of ocean acidification, fishing, and fisheries in the Asia Pacific region. Therefore, the report calls for much-needed improvement in the collection, analysis, and sharing of data across borders to sustain the oceans. Regional governments must join forces to implement international frameworks and scale up actions for the revival of oceans. There is an international commitment to protect the marine biodiversity from plastic waste, shipping pollution, and unregulated fishing activities in the high sea. 

World governments are required to develop an action plan for rigorous enforcement of the existing international conventions, frameworks, norms, and standards which are aimed at protection and sustainable use of the oceans and their resources. Some of the international instruments already in place are the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and the subsequent Agreement on Port State Measures with principles to tackle illegal fishing and the Basel Convention for better-regulated trade in plastic waste.


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