Human populations have heavily relied on the oceans for food supply, transportation, security, oil and gas resources, and many other explored and unexplored reasons. The growing prospects of the oceans, such as access to marine genetic resources and seabed minerals, generating renewable energy, are contributing to increased interests to control and exploit the seas.
Oceans and coastal areas are essential component of the earth’s ecosystem. They contribute to approximately two-thirds of the earth’s surface, and contain 97 percent of the planet’s water. Over three billion people depend on marine and coastal resources for their livelihoods, thereby, contributing to poverty eradication.
In addition, oceans are crucial for global food security and human health. They are also the primary regulator of the global climate, an important sink for greenhouse gases and they provide us with water and the oxygen we breathe. According to data, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) projects that ocean-based industries contribute about €1.3trillion to global gross value added.
Furthermore, as oceans host huge reservoirs of biodiversity, the Proposal of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) submitted to the United Nations General Assembly in August 2014, SDG 14 aims to “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” due to its immense contributions to human and ecological safety.
Primarily, SDGs are accompanied by targets that are often elaborated through indicators focused on measurable outcomes. They are action-oriented, global in nature and universally applicable. They take into account different national realities, capacities and levels of development and respect national policies and priorities. They build on the foundation laid by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These goals constitute an integrated, indivisible set of global priorities for sustainable development.
Targets are defined as aspirational global targets, with each government setting its own national targets guided by the global level of ambition but taking into account national circumstances. The goals and targets integrate economic, social and environmental aspects and recognise their inter-linkages in achieving sustainable development in all its dimensions.
Hinging solely on SDG 14, issues related to oceans and seas are addressed in the ten (10) targets under SDG 14, under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the outcome document of the United Nations summit for the adoption of the posst-2015 development agenda in 2015.
Despite the overarching contribution of the oceans, seas and its coastal areas, oceans are under intense pressure from human activities. Oceans, seas and marine resources are increasingly threatened, degraded or destroyed by human activities, reducing their ability to provide crucial ecosystem services. Important classes of threats are, among others, climate change, marine pollution, unsustainable extraction of marine resources and physical alterations and destruction of marine and coastal habitats and landscapes.
The deterioration of coastal and marine ecosystems and habitats is negatively affecting human well-being worldwide. With the world’s population expected to reach 9-10 billion by 2050, there will be increasing demand and global competition. With a looming crisis in reference to the potential overreliance of the ocean, the complexity of marine socio-ecological systems has led to enacting policies on ocean governance.
International treaties, regional agreements and national policies often comprise complex design, development and implementation that reflect the desire to move toward specific objectives. To improve oceans governance, the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development agreement, and the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development encourages states to develop and implement integrated ocean and coastal policy approaches.
However, in Ghana, ad hoc, disjointed management regimes have resulted in unsavory compliance and outcomes on the marine ecosystem. To implement reliable policies for Ghana’s oceans and coastal lines, it is imperative to highlight some main challenges we face.
Lack of sewage and wastewater treatment
The lack of sewage and wastewater treatment, as well as the release of pollutants from industrial, shipping and agricultural activities are key threats to the ocean, particularly in terms of food security, safety and maintenance of marine biodiversity. Notwithstanding the numerous concerns warranting the need for proper institutionalisation of ocean governance which has come to the forefront of contemporary social and political issues, there are inadequate monitoring arrangements for many pollutants, accompanied by a lack of effective arrangements to establish and enforce norms for levels of harmful substances.
Plausible dogmatism toward ocean governance
In Ghana, the institutions required to implement structured policies for ocean governance may exhibit a level of dogmatism in safeguarding our oceans. Perhaps, they may be lacking the detailed knowledge and skilled manpower needed for ocean governance and management.
Enacting an integrated ocean governance policy to augment the capacity and technologies for planning and managing land-based activities that have an impact on coastal and marine environments, as well as those activities occurring in coastal and marine environments will ensure that economic benefits can be maximised in an environmentally sustainable manner.
Seemingly non-existent data for ocean governance integration
Widespread and timely access to data and information is key to drafting ocean governance policies. With zero or less data, we are concerned on what policy drafts hinges on. Scientific data sharing via geospatial data infrastructures will be essential not only for synoptic marine-environmental observation, state-of-the-ocean reporting, and more detailed exploration of ocean space, but also for ensuring safety and security for the growing number of marine operators and improving fisheries management practices.
Designing data and information products for the purpose of decision-making and compliance monitoring will require good coordination among technology providers and users. Simply put, we lack the data, associated tools and capacity for robust assessment and development and effective management of the ocean and coastal areas.
Effective arrangements for climate mitigation and adaptation are lacking
Climate change, through its warming and acidification of the world’s oceans, is likely to have profound effects on Ghana’s marine organisms and ecosystems, with implications for food security and many marine industries. For many species, the impact of such rapid change and their resilience to it are unknown. Interactions between the various changes in the oceans and responses to the different rates of change in the oceans along with our coastal areas should be known by our mandated stakeholders.
Limited mapping strategies
The mapping of marine habitats as a basis for identifying areas that merit protection, coupled with structures that support marine spatial planning systems and information frameworks are limited. Against this backdrop, it is important for ocean governance policy drafts to include an agreed criterion to identifying sensitive areas necessitating development.
In conclusion, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) outlines legal frameworks within which all activities in the oceans and seas must be carried out, including the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean and its resources.
Effective implementation of the convention is paramount in ensuring the conservation of the marine environment and the sustainable use of its resources, as well as the protection of the many services that the ocean will provide for future generations. By so doing, all relevant stakeholders in the maritime space should be seen as a unified body in tackling the aforementioned challenges by developing a well-structured Integrated Ocean Governance Policy.
Albert is the Executive Director at the Centre for International Maritime Affairs, Ghana (CIMAG), an Advocacy and a Research Policy Think-Tank, with focus on the Maritime Industry (Blue Economy) and general Ocean Governance.