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Visions of the future / Humanity and oceans

Several digital paintings in the book "Hopes" deal with the future of humanity and its relationship with the oceans. The idea was to try to imagine a future where mankind would have stopped its blind exploitation of fisheries resources (among others) to live in symbiosis with its environment, even repairing the damage caused in recent decades. This is why I invited Jean-Michel Cousteau, Sandra Bessudo, Philippe Vallette, Captain Paul Watson, and my friends Jean Lemire et Jacques Rougerie to share with me their vision of the future of the oceans. The closing of the UN conference on the future of the oceans this Friday in Lisbon is an opportunity to come back to these crucial issues for our future.

To begin with, let's remember that if we call the Earth the blue planet, it is for a simple reason: 70% of its surface is covered by oceans*. If you could observe the Earth like our astronauts from space, a few hundred kilometers above the Pacific, you would see only this or almost this: a huge blue globe, with a few lacy white clouds above it. Water is everywhere, and fortunately, because without this water, life would simply not exist. The ocean is the cradle of life on earth, it also plays an essential role in the climate machine, capturing an important part of the atmospheric CO2 and producing half of the oxygen on our planet (and you will agree, oxygen is quite useful). The first lung of the Earth is therefore not the Amazon, but the Ocean - which does not take anything away from the need to protect the Amazon, we agree).

“No ocean, no life. No blue, no green. No ocean, no us.”

Sylvia Earle

Marine biologist, explorer, American author

Hence the need to declare a state of emergency in light of the degradation of this vital ecosystem of the planet, which was done by the UN Secretary General at the opening of this summit in Lisbon.

An international mobilization is now essential to completely rethink our relationship with the ocean. It must be said that anthropic activities have seriously polluted the world's seas with plastics and many other chemicals, when they have not simply emptied them of their fisheries resources through overfishing. To this we must add its warming (yes, it is not only the atmosphere that is being warmed) and its acidification. The result is clear: the oceans are dying (overfishing), warming (by taking on more volume, which contributes to the rise of the world's waters), acidifying, and disturbing (for example with a change in marine currents). The consequences will be terrible for billions of human beings in the next few years if nothing is done to take things in hand.

If the lack of interest for the ocean cause was unfortunately a reality until recently (as evidenced by the fact that the UN Sustainable Development Goal ODD-14 dedicated to the oceans was until recently the least funded of the 17 goals set by the United Nations for 2030), things are changing. The consensus on the seriousness of the situation is now shared at the international level (it's about time), now it's time for action (it's about time too).

The good news is that things are (finally) starting to move: for example, the Ministerial Council of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has finally decided to ban subsidies for unsustainable fishing. The objective of Lisbon in the last few days was to start putting in place the roadmaps and funding necessary for the implementation of new objectives in the same direction, namely the preservation, or even the restoration of marine ecosystems (yes, all is not lost, yes, we can still save a lot of things).

When we talk about the fight against global warming and more generally for the preservation of our environment, many things will indeed depend on the evolution of international law. On this point, the implementation of this treaty on the high seas will be of great importance. In 2021, France and Costa Rica initiated a coalition in which they were joined by 102 states to protect 30% of their marine and terrestrial areas by 2030. The creation of a law of the high seas is part of the objectives, which will allow the implementation of binding regulations to preserve the seabed (and incidentally the water column above it - this precision could make people smile, but in reality it is important to know that most of the regulations until recently only concerned the surface of the oceans and not what was below).

“When it comes to the oceans, most people see what is happening on the surface, but not what is happening underneath. They still don't really realize the importance of pollution, plastic or otherwise, and the extent to which it affects the eco-systems and the health of the oceans. This pollution leads to the destruction of strategic ecosystems, such as corals or mangroves; in addition to this, of course, there is overfishing, illegal fishing and devastating industrial fishing, which also affects the high seas - which must also be protected, and not limited to the territorial waters of countries. It is now necessary to work in cooperation with other countries; on the scientific level, certainly, but also to put in place common protection measures for emblematic and highly threatened species, such as the hammerhead shark. [...]. We need everyone to help us protect the sea, from the mountains to the ocean.”

Sandra Bessudo

Naturalist, conservationist and founder of the Malpelo and other Marine Ecosystems Foundation

HOPES, Y. Monget, Symbiom Editions

The risk is obviously to end up with a treaty that is not up to the gravity of the situation. This would not be the first time for treaties related to the environment and the fact that this draft treaty (BBNJ) does not currently include fisheries (which remains one of the main problems, as you will agree) is a matter of concern. Another challenge is to reach an agreement on the exploitation of seabed mineral resources. When we know the needs of a humanity that has not yet integrated the notion of sobriety, and the tensions that we know in terms of supply of certain minerals, there too, it is permissible to doubt, or at least to remain very cautious. Let us hope that this is not the case, and that the ambition is there to preserve what can still be preserved.

The next deadline is the negotiation of a treaty on the high seas in New York in August (followed by COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh in November, and COP15 on biodiversity in Montreal in December).

* A little scientific digression in passing and just for fun, if some people wonder why the oceans are blue, it is simply due to the fact that white sunlight is made up of a set of wavelengths, each responsible for a color of the visible spectrum and that the color most refracted by the oceans is blue. (Red and yellow waves are absorbed by the water from 10 to 30 meters deep, green disappearing around 60 meters deep and blue only around 90 meters.


Digital painting from the book HOPES, Symbiom Editions 2021

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