Robin Singh: The ocean's reality

Having lived most of my life in New Zealand and hung around the pristine beaches of the North Island, I've kept a false blanket on my imagination thinking that such pristineness was the reality for most of the world.  

While attending the UNEA-2 gave me a wake-up call into the stark reality of our oceans and marine wildlife.

  • ·So far 9% of all marine life has been extinct.
  •  2/3rd of coral reefs in the world are under the threat either from human or environmental activity. 93% of coral reefs has been bleached in Great Barrier Reef with a strong possibility of most of the species not recovering.
  • There are now close to 500 dead zones covering more than 245,000 km² globally, equivalent to the surface of the United Kingdom. 
  • Trend of dead zones is still on rise which is caused by excessive nutrients from sewage outfalls and agricultural runoffs generates low oxygen areas, where most marine life cannot survive, resulting in the collapse of some ecosystems: also known as ocean acidification.
  • There is over 150 million tonne of plastics in our ocean.
  • ·Plastic in oceans breaks further down into micro plastics and enter our own food chain through seafood. 30% of all fish consumed by humans contains plastic causing severe organ damage.
  • Plastic causes $13 billion damage to marine ecosystems each year and sad reality is that technology to recycle plastics exists but not fully implemented.

Oceans are a very important part of our ecosystem and biodiversity sustaining majority of life on Earth and a great carbon absorbers from our atmosphere. But like every other natural resource, humans have also managed to push the marine ecosystem under intense pressure resulting in overfishing of 30% of all species, increased ocean acidification, rising ocean levels, increased marine litter & increased presence of plastics— if our current ways continued the oceans will be contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonne of fish by 2025.

It is extremely sad and frustrating that the amount of irrevocable damage we as a species have done to our planet and our oceans within 100 years. I feel our greed has far exceeded the planetary boundaries of our ocean which are closely heading towards a very likely scenario where our planets will no longer be able to sustain us or our ways. Such troubling facts made me ask myself ‘how will we manage our diminishing biodiversity and resources in 2050 with an estimated population of 10 billion, when we are struggling to manage them in our current state with $3 billion less people?’ All the facts, the visuals and internal deliberations put me in a pessimist mind frame that we have entered an “environmental emergency” with no means or resources to deal with it in a timely manner.

A cynical mind and head full of questions, I entered the closing ceremony of Science Policy Forum to hear Achim Steiner address the delegates around the world. His speech, his wisdom and his outlook helped me to look over the horizon, encouraged me to appreciate and don’t underestimate what we have achieved in the face of all the problems. It made me realise that even though we may have some serious challenges but we as a species have the knowledge, technology, data & know-how to generate solutions. He admitted that the problem curve is very steep and current improvements might not seem as great, but in reality we have a very strong momentum building underneath that curve which in next 10 years will generate some significant changes for the betterment.

Listening to such an inspiring leader made me change my mindset and allowed me to look at the problems from a different perspective not only in present terms but also in future mindset with all the current initiatives that are underway and the potential benefits they will generate upon fruition.

Some of the driving initiatives in this field are the re-generation of Caisson Seagrass which is the most efficient absorber of CO2 from our oceans which helps stabilise the PH level and reduces ocean acidification. Dedicated ecological marine zones which are helping biodiversity and species to recover. All member states have admitted that marine litter & micro plastic as a major issue that requires immediate action and all member states fully supported UNEA’s resolution on Marine plastic & debris. Norway along with EU are leading on this initiative and realised that simply cleaning up the oceans is only ‘treating the symptom’, in order to ‘treat the disease’ they must treat the source by making sure the all the plastic is retained and recycled on the land without slipping into the oceans. Several non-governmental initiatives are also currently in testing phase at the moment including a long floating barrier in the ocean which allows the ocean currents to passively collect the plastic. Introduction of 100% plant based bottles made with the sugarcane processing waste which easily breaks down in landfills and a significant rise in bio-degradable plastics which all help towards creating a circular economy.

During my reflection of state of our oceans, given the increased public awareness and considering the initiatives that are currently in place to relief our oceans from all the junk is very much reminiscent of a saying that “Sometimes bad things have to happen before good things can”.

Perhaps, if our oceans never deteriorated to its current state, we as a human race probably would not have mobilised ourselves to generate sustainable solutions for ourselves and our future generation. 


All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.

Posted on May 27, 2016 .