By Wang Fengjuan
“Listen to the sea crying, The sea can’t help being overwhelmed, Weeping with grief until dawn…”
These are lyrics from famous Chinese singer Zhang Huimei’s classic love song Listening to the Sea. In the real world, the seas are not overwhelmed with grief, but by a rapidly deteriorating marine environment.
The vast blue oceans are uniquely beautiful but fragile. Two problems are plaguing the marine environment: pollution discharge which has exceeded the self-purification capacity of the seas and ecological damage from various human and natural factors that changes the marine ecological environment.
The oceans cover about 70 percent of the Earth’s surface and support as much as 80 percent of life on Earth. The ocean is a home we share with marine creatures. However, our blue planet is slowly changing due to human behavior.
Protecting Marine Biodiversity
The French documentary Ocean includes a scene in a specimen museum: The voiceover during a montage of animal species simply says “extinction” over and over. Many animals from the oceans have disappeared forever.
The 11th World Oceans Day fell on June 8 of this year with the theme “cherish marine resources and protect marine biodiversity.” The Ministry of Natural Resources of China has worked with nonprofit organizations to release posters and films advocating protection of marine resources and biodiversity. Chinese actor Huang Bo, “Person of the Year 2019 on Protectingthe Ocean,” has called on the general public to work together to protect the marine environment. “China used to be rich in marine resources,” he said. “Illegal and excessive fishing have led to a rapid decline in marine resources.” GoalBlue (Shenzhen) Low Carbon Development & Promotion Centre also cast film and TV stars in its marine environmental protection videos, which were shown on the Nasdaq screen in Times Square in New York City.
In recent years, more and more non-governmental organizations have joined in the drive to protect the marine environment. Huang Hui, known as “coral mother,” has popularized the idea of artificially restoring damaged coral reefs and explored technical methods of restoring different types of reefs. Zhou Shihui is known for promoting the sustainable use of beach resources. The Chinese White Dolphin Protection Alliance has been working in the Pearl River Estuary Chinese White Dolphin National Nature Reserve to protect the rare species nicknamed the “giant panda at sea.” GoalBlue has been committed to promoting sustainable lifestyles through providing information on responsible consumerism.
“From sharks to rays, many marine species are on the verge of extinction,” sighed Lee Hannah, a conservation ecologist and a senior researcher in climate change biology at Conservation International. “We must take action to protect the marine environment and species or the consequences will be devastating.” On July 18, the World Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released an updated version of its Red List of Threatened Species, which provided a comprehensive assessment of the protection of endangered species in the world. The list showed that 500 species of deep-sea hard- bone fish and 16 species of rays are threatened, and the scaly snail (Chrysomallon squamiferum) has been listed as the first endangered pelagic mollusk. The number of rays has declined to the brink of extinction due to fishing—illegal fishing because their fins can be used for shark fin soup.
GoalBlue’s First-tier Chinese Cities Sustainable Fishery Consumption Behavior Survey Report shows that China’s consumption of aquatic products accounts for 38 percent of global consumption of 150 million tons. Today virtually no fish are left in China’s coastal waters, which has become an imminent problem for China. GoalBlue suggested the country promote “sustainable fishery” to relieve the pressure on the seas and protect marine biodiversity. Sustainable fishery refers to fishing behavior that ensures the recovery of the target population and minimizes the impact on other species and the surrounding ecosystem. Continued survival benefits of fishermen, the sustainability of fishery and the health of the ecosystem are thus coordinated through sound management to provide sufficient fishery resources in the future.
“Relevant departments of the Chinese government have enacted fishing moratoriums, closed fishing areas and created marine sanctuaries to improve the fishing environment,” commented GoalBlue Executive Director May Mei. “As a non- governmental organization, we are using a series of activities to call on the general public to be aware of the value of marine ecosystem.” The GoalBlue survey found that residents of first- tier Chinese cities have a strong sense of environmental protection, with 94.4 percent of consumers willing to prioritize sustainable fishery products (seafood obtained through sustainable fishery), among whom residents born after 1985 account for a large proportion.
“On World Oceans Day, 1.1 million people participated in the online interactive activities,” reported May. “I believe that more and more people are beginning to understand the meaning and methods of protecting the oceans and consumers will vote with their wallets, which will help shape the future of the oceans.”
Considerable plastic waste is now being dumped into the oceans, where it sinks to the bottom and breaks into small pieces before being swallowed by fish, sea turtles and other marine animals, seriously polluting the marine environment and posing a threat to fishery and tourism.
Many ASEAN member states are island or coastal countries with large populations of fishermen subsisting on the sea. Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia and others have incorporated protection of marine natural resources into their national marine policies. Indonesian President Joko Widodo launched the Global Maritime Fulcrum (GMF) doctrine, aiming to protect, manage and develop marine ecological resources in Indonesia’s territorial seas and high seas.
At the 34th ASEAN Summit on June 22, leaders of the 10 ASEAN member states adopted the Bangkok Declaration on Combating Marine Debris in the ASEAN Region. Joint action will be taken to manage marine debris in the region. For the first time, ASEAN countries collectively expressed concern about marine debris, which increasingly affects marine life, fishery and tourism, in the form of a joint declaration. To solve the problem, ASEAN will adopt a more comprehensive marine governance program, strengthen research capacity and regional and international cooperation and raise public awareness of environmental protection.
Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong believes that both marine debris and air pollution are cross-border environmental issues. It would be unrealistic for individual countries to solve such problems independently. Therefore, Singapore strongly supports regional multilateral cooperation on the issue. Marine debris affects not only public health and food supply, but also tourism and industry. If effective actions are not taken, many of the beautiful beaches in Southeast Asia will be destroyed.
Marine debris is a common problem faced by China and ASEAN countries. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), more than 6.4 million tons of garbage are dumped into the oceans every year. Eighty percent of marine debris comes from land, mostly food packaging and plastic bags. The other 20 percent comes from human activities at sea such as garbage discarded from cruise ships and abandoned fishing nets. Marine debris is swallowing our oceans at an amazing rate, not only affecting the marine landscape and threatening the safety of navigation, but also exerting an impact on the health of the marine ecosystem and marine economy.
Duan Delin, a researcher at the Institute of Oceanology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, thinks that aggravation of pollution such as marine debris causes risk of destruction of the original marine ecological balance. Plastic debris has become an urgent problem to be solved because sea turtles, fish and birds are dying with debris in their stomachs. Abandoned fishing nets entangle sea lions, seals and other animals, limiting their growth or killing them. “Furthermore, discharge of all kinds of eutrophic and harmful substances must be under strict supervision and control,” said Duan.
To address common environmental problems, China and ASEAN countries have carried out cooperation in ocean governance. China has signed memoranda of understanding on bilateral maritime cooperation with Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. A stable cooperation mechanism has been established, and cooperative projects have been carried out such as marine environmental forecasting and disaster prevention and mitigation, research and protection of endangered marine life and a cooperation network across marine protected areas.
Somya, Under Secretary of State at Cambodia’s Ministry of Environment, thinks Cambodia urgently needs to strengthen its marine environmental management and coastal region development. Cambodia is eager to carry out practical cooperation with China and other ASEAN countries in the fields of blue economics and marine ecological environment protection by means of personnel exchange and capacity building.