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Ocean conference probes perils facing "blue planet"
From 29 October to 2 November, the UNU, the Ocean Research Institute (ORI) of the University of Tokyo, and Iwate Prefecture held an international conference, "Man and the Ocean," to commemorate the International Year of the Ocean, a UN effort to highlight the importance of oceans to human life. Symposia were organized at the UNU's Tokyo Headquarters on 29 and 30 October, at Iwate Prefectural University in Morioka on 1 November, and at the Sanriku Exposition Memorial Hall in Kamaishi on 2 November.
The research work presented at this conference highlighted worldwide contributions towards marine environment conservation. Other topics included coastal resource management, global and regional marine pollution, and impacts on marine biodiversity. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also helped sponsor the conference.
One keynote speaker, UNEP Water Branch Director Terttu Melvasalo, was unable to attend but shared her prepared remarks through another speaker. Her presentation highlighted the complexity of ocean governance, and the remarkable successes of the Regional Seas Programmes in the face of this tangle of responsible agencies and national governments.
For example, simply dealing with marine pollution issues involves eight agencies, with overlapping jurisdiction over two categories of pollution sources.
Sewage pollution is the concern of the World Health Organization; radioactive substances are monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency; nutrients and sediment mobilization by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, oils and litter by the International Maritime Organization, and habitat destruction by UNEP, to mention only some.
The UNEP Regional Seas Programme coordinates the actions of these agencies and the coastal and watershed nations to address specific problems. These programmes involve 140 participating coastal states and territories in 13 areas, including the Black Sea, the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the Wider Caribbean and the Mediterranean.
UNEP Regional Action plans usually include environmental assessment, management, and legislation as well as institutional and financial arrangements.
As Melvasalo noted, more than 60 per cent of the world's population lives within 100 kilometres of a coastline, and nearly all people live within a river basin. More than three billion people rely on coastal and marine habitats for food, building sites, transportation, recreation, and waste disposal. She also observed the ways freshwater and sea water issues are linked, in both the quality and quantity aspects of environmental protection.
Her conclusion poses the dynamic challenge marine conservation efforts face: "Nature has patience in cleaning the water polluted by us, and in keeping this huge megacleaning system functioning properly. Unfortunately for us, we continue to pollute."