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  December 1998    

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.

Elisabeth Mann Borgese
This event focused on the relationships between humans and the marine environment. The impacts of human activities on coastal and ocean ecological systems have become crucial global issues. Oceans are resources shared by everyone, and increasing scholarly and political interest reflect the importance of managing them in a sustainable manner.

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.

Administrative nightmare

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."
"Oceanic Circle" embraces global issues

The newest volume from UNU Press marks a major event in the multidisciplinary study of ocean issues.

The late November publication of The Oceanic Circle: Governing the Seas as a Global Resource, by Club of Rome member Elisabeth Mann Borgese, was timed to coincide with the Pacem in Maribus Conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.

The book's title is taken from Mohandas Gandhi's comparison of the social order to the ever-widening circles that result when a stone is dropped in the ocean. In much the same way, the governance of the world's oceans - as generated by the UN's 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea and other agreements following the 1992 Rio Earth Summit - is now affecting the social order of the individual, the city, the nation, the region and the global community.
This emerging order has social, economic, cultural, environmental and ethical aspects, and requires profound changes in human relations with nature. Urgent problems such as over-fishing, pollution, climate and sea-level changes, and biodiversity conservation demand original responses and unprecedented cooperation.

Like life itself, this new order started in the ocean, which has been declared the common heritage of humanity, and is expanding to embrace the whole biosphere in "the majesty of the oceanic circle," leading to a more peaceful and equitable world order.

This volume is available through the UNU Press, United Nations publications offices, and the Press' marketing agencies abroad such as Brookings Institution Press in North America and The Stationery Office in the UK.

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