By Danielle Anne G. Chua

Do you remember the 2003 all-time favorite animation film, Finding Nemo? Perhaps, do you remember Dory motivating Nemo, “just keep swimming”?

But seeing the current condition of the ocean right now, it would not be a safe environment for sea creatures and would not be a healthy life provider for the living — in a general sense.

The ocean conference

Tobiko Keriako, Cabinet Secretary of Kenya’s Ministry for Environment and Forestry and one of the ocean conference co-chairs, deeply articulated that, “We are all in agreement that we cannot have a healthy planet without a healthy ocean.” 

The long-standing existence of this environmental issue roots all the way to the United Nations’ urgent pinpoint of ‘critical’ ocean health in the 2022 UN Ocean Conference conducted in Lisbon, Portugal.

It is a five-day conference that primarily aims to create innovative plans for ocean sustainability, to discuss the impacts of human activities on water bodies, to emphasize the necessity of marine technology knowledge, and to keep up with The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the UN. 

Its environmental urgency spoke volumes as more than a hundred countries participated in the said conference — consisting of high officers, world leaders, civil representatives, organizations, scientists, and advocates.

The SDGs alignment

These SDGs are specifically No Poverty; Zero Hunger; Good Health and Well-being, Quality Education; Gender Equality; Clean Water and Sanitation; Affordable and Clean Energy; Decent Work and Economic Growth; Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure; Reduced Inequalities; Sustainable Cities and Communities; Responsible Consumption and Production; Climate Action; Life Below Water; Life on Land; Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions; and Partnerships for the Goals.

Although these align with each other, the conference had a heavy emphasis on Life Below Water or the ocean health itself — – leading to the conference theme “Scaling Up Ocean Action Based on Science and Innovation for the Implementation of Goal 14: Stocktaking, Partnerships and Solutions”.”

Certainly, it was made possible through multiple plenary meetings and endeavors in its whole duration. 

Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General Special Envoy for the Ocean and Co-chair, specifies the following conference topics: handling ocean-related environmental issues like water pollution and acidification; sustainable ocean economies, and conservation of aquatic ecosystems.

The declarations and commitments

According to the conference plenary meeting, it also pilots the newly-embraced 17-paragraph Political Declaration entitled “Our Ocean, Our Future, Our Responsibility '', which mainly focuses on its top priority to maneuver ocean health.

Chen (2022) also states that this Declaration is particularly positioned to scientific innovations and plans with the utmost consideration forof developing states and countries.

Also in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, Member States assembled their respective commitments to ensure sustainable ocean health and to take part in the conference objectives. Some are ocean and climate research,; renewable energy usage,; and plastic use reduction.

The discourse does not end there — proper evaluation and monitoring of these commitments were also prioritizedput into priority.

The UN ocean health measures

It is important to note that the 2022 UN Ocean Conference is not the only existing effort coming from the UN; dealing with ocean health has already been an extensive journey for them.

“It is not too late to break the cycle of biodiversity decline, ocean warming, acidification, and marine pollution. But there is no time to lose,” Miguel De Serpa Soares, the Undersecretary-General for Legal Affairs, United Nations Legal Counsel, and Special Adviser to the Presidents of the Conference, momentously said during the conference closing remarks.

This can then be reflected in the UN's previous measures and action steps on restoring and conserving ocean health.

One notable matter is the clear implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea way back in 1982. This strictly deals with the “It lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world's oceans and seas establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources”, conforming to the International Maritime Organization.

The humans and oceans

Given the UN’s adherence in making sustainable ocean health a feasible matter, it all boils down to one thing — humans’ accountability. Or it must say, our accountability. 

Human activities, whether enormous or small, have always been the highly alarming origin of how these bodies of water gradually become close with deterioration, pollution, destruction, and failure. 

In line with Fava (2022), the frightening perils are possibly the following: rising temperatures, melting of glaciers, unpleasant discharge of wastes, oil spills, overfishing, dredging, external noise, sea mining, and a lot more to mention.

Furthermore, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s State of the Global Climate 2021 Report, four climate change criteria (namely greenhouse gas, rise of sea levels, ocean heat, and acidification) have already beat the records in 2021.

The tough reality is, that this is not the type of record-beating that anyone would like to hear.

Humans must not afford giving up the sake of these waters only for self-centered intentions; there has to be something done to make a difference.

As much as Dory clamors to just keep swimming and as the UN urges people to prioritize the crucial ocean health, this is a significant reminder to just keep saving…the ocean.