Memories of idyllic beaches and sonorous waves may seem far away
while we remain at home. Yet we need not look far to appreciate the
enduring history of the ocean in Asia and the Pacific. For generations,
the region has thrived on the seas. Part of our name bears a nod to the
Pacific Ocean, a body of water tethered to the well-being of billions of
people in our region. The seas provide food, livelihoods and a sense of
identity, especially for coastal communities in the Pacific island
Sadly, escalating strains on the marine environment are threatening
to drown progress and our way of life. In less than a century, climate
change and unsustainable resource management have degraded ecosystems
and diminished biodiversity. Levels of overfishing have exponentially
increased, leaving fish stocks and food systems vulnerable. Marine
plastic pollution coursing through the region's rivers has contributed
to most of the debris flooding the ocean.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has temporarily reduced emissions and
pollution on the ocean, this should not be just a moment of reprieve.
Rather, recovery efforts have the potential to rebuild a new reality,
embedded in sustainability and resilience. It is time to take
transformative action for the ocean, together.
Despite a seascape celebrated in our collective imaginations,
research shows that our picture of the ocean is remarkably shallow.
Insights from "Changing Sails: Accelerating Regional Actions for
Sustainable Oceans in Asia and the Pacific", the theme study of this
year's Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, reveal
that without data, we are swimming in the dark.
Data are available for only two out of 10 targets for Sustainable
Development Goal-14: Life Below Water. Due to limitations in methodology
and national statistical systems, information gaps have persisted at
uneven levels across countries. Defeating COVID-19 has been a number's
game and we need similar commitment to data for the state of our shores.
While there is much we cannot see, images of plastic pollution have
become commonplace. The Asia and the Pacific region produces nearly half
of global plastic by volume, of which it consumes 38 percent. Plastics
represent a double burden for the ocean: their production generates
carbon dioxide absorbed by the ocean and as a final product enters the
ocean as pollution. Beating this challenge will hinge upon effective
national policies and rethinking production cycles.
Environmental decline is also affecting dwindling fish stocks. Our
region's position as the world's largest producer of fish has come at
the cost of overexploitation. The percentage of stocks fished at
unsustainable levels has increased threefold from 10 percent in 1974 to
33 percent in 2015. Generating complete data on fish stocks, fighting
illicit fishing activity and conserving marine areas must remain a
Economic activity from shipping must also be sustainable. While the
most connected shipping economies are in Asia, the small island
developing states of the Pacific experience much lower levels of
connectivity, leaving them relatively isolated from the global economy.
Closing the maritime connectivity gap must be placed at the center of
regional transport cooperation efforts. We must also work with the
shipping community to navigate toward green shipping. As an ocean-based
industry, shipping directly affects the health of the marine ecosystem.
Enforcing sustainable shipping policies is essential to mitigate
The magnitude of our ocean and its challenges represent how extensive
and collaborative our solutions must be. Trans-boundary ocean
management and linking ocean data call for close cooperation among
countries in the region. Harnessing ocean statistics through strong
national statistical systems will serve as a compass guiding countries
to monitor trends, devise timely responses and clear blind spots
Through the Ocean Accounts Partnership, ESCAP is working with
countries to harmonize ocean data and provide a space for regular
dialogue. Translating international agreements and standards into
national action is also key. We must fully equip countries and all ocean
custodians to localize global agreements into tangible results. ESCAP
is working with member states to implement International Maritime
Organization requirements on emissions reduction and environmental
Keeping the ocean plastic-free will depend on policies that promote a
circular economy approach. This strategy minimizes resource use and
keeps them in use for as long as possible. This will require economic
incentives and disincentives, coupled with fundamental lifestyle
changes. Several countries in the region have imposed successful single
use plastic bans. ESCAP's "Closing the Loop" project is reducing the
environmental impact of cities in ASEAN member states by addressing
plastic waste pollution and leakages into the marine environment.
Our oceans keep our health, the economy and our lives above the
waves. In the post-COVID-19 era, we must use the critical years ahead to
steer our collective fleets toward sustainable oceans. With our shared
resources and commitment, I am confident we can sail in the right