Oceans play an indispensable role in our survival, providing us with jobs, medicines, food, and recreation.
But they also serve as invaluable tools in the fight against climate change. Their sheer size and mass mean that ocean ecosystems produce 50 per cent of the world’s oxygen, absorb a third of the carbon dioxide produced by humans, and absorb an astounding 90 per cent of the heat generated by greenhouse gases.
Yet the oceans’ ability to help regulate our climate is in danger. Climate change is threatening some of the world’s most critical and productive marine ecosystems, like coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass. Higher amounts of carbon have caused the acidity of our oceans to soar, disrupting marine resources and the human livelihoods that depend on them.
Meanwhile, 34 per cent of fisheries are overexploited, with some of this overfishing being done illegally. Unsustainable fishing and illegal fishing perpetuate each other: as fish stocks decline, fishing vessels are more likely to use illegal methods, while illegal fishing accelerates declines in fish stocks.
"Overfishing not only depletes our oceans; it also jeopardizes our way of life,” bemoaned one fisher in Seychelles’ Port of Victoria. “As fishers, we witness the shrinking fish populations firsthand, affecting not just our livelihoods but also the balance of marine ecosystems.
“It's high time we prioritize sustainable fishing practices to ensure a future for both marine life and the generations of fishermen to come,” he declared.
Additionally, widespread pollution at sea – in addition to being toxic for marine life – may last for years in the sediment and marine environment. The most common sources of sea-based pollution include fishing and aquaculture, illegal or accidental dumping at sea from shipping, and offshore mining and extraction. It is estimated that more than 150 million tons of plastics have accumulated in the world’s oceans, while 4.6-12.7 million tons are added every year.
Last year, the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework adopted an ambitious global target to conserve and manage 30 per cent of marine and coastal areas by 2030. Increasing maritime security and improving fisheries management, therefore, can play a major role for safeguarding Marine Protected Areas and boosting the ocean’s natural ability to store carbon – and in helping the world meet its commitments under the Paris Agreement.
To help mitigate climate change and promote a sustainable blue economy, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) provides technical assistance to Member States to prevent and respond to pollution crimes at sea and crimes in the fisheries sector through improved maritime law enforcement and regional cooperation.
Funded by Norway and implemented by UNODC in Maldives and Sri Lanka, the ‘’Blue Enforcement Project’’ aims to build cooperation and capacity to address transnational organized crime in the fisheries industry. Referring to an activity held for customs officers under this project, the Assistant Superintendent from Sri Lanka Customs, Hansani Karunarathne, noted “we as law enforcement officers don’t get to work closely with the fisheries community often, but this training has provided a platform for all stakeholders to get together and exchange information through an articulated and cooperative approach.”
One of UNODC’s flagship initiatives is FishNET, funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation. The project, currently in its 2nd phase, is aimed at enhancing developing countries' capabilities to address crimes in the fisheries sector and covers areas from improvement of legislative frameworks to capacity building and fighting corruption.
UNODC has also developed a legislative guide on crimes in the fisheries sector, as well as a corruption risk assessment and mitigation measures based on the Rotten Fish guide.
While there has been growing awareness and increased action to promote marine conservation, most coastal states still lack the basic resources and capabilities needed to monitor their maritime domains and regulate maritime activities. In response, UNODC and partners held a side event on 1 December at the Nature Positive pavilion to highlight the role of innovation and technology for targeting crimes that affect marine biodiversity and undermine ocean-based climate mitigation.
From the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and aerial drones for tracking illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing boats to the use of satellite imagery for detecting oil slicks from commercial vessels, UNODC and Global Fishing Watch, SkyTruth,and Bloomberg Philanthropies discussed rapid advances in satellite and computing technologies and their potential for improving monitoring and enforcement against environmentally harmful activities at sea. UNODC also highlighted its partnership with the Allen Institute for AI as an example of how it works to improve the capabilities of Member States in maritime domain awareness and maritime communications.
In addition, on 4 December, UNODC will present on the role and importance of enhanced maritime law enforcement for ocean climate action during a side event organized by the UN-Oceans mechanism. UNODC and partners will highlight how collaboration for climate-smart sustainable ocean management and planning can contribute to increased ambition for a greater collective impact.
Finally, on 9 December, UNODC and World Wildlife Fund (WWF) will hold a side event on promoting marine conservation and maritime security partnerships for protecting blue carbon sinks in the Galapagos, Ecuador.
“Illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing is the main problem that a fishery faces in Ecuador,” says Tarsicio Granizo, country director for WWF-Ecuador. “As a global biodiversity hotspot, crimes in the fisheries sector and other maritime crimes pose serious threats to the islands’ delicate marine ecosystem and harm their communities, whose livelihoods and health depend on maritime security.”
Building on the new UNODC-WWF pilot project to advance innovative knowledge-sharing for tackling fisheries crimes in the Galapagos, UNODC, WWF and Ecuador’s Ministry of Environment will showcase the importance of enforcing the rule at sea to curb biodiversity loss and promote resilience to climate change in the archipelago’s coastal marine ecosystems.