The report – environmental and economic health of the North West Pacific—present and future, underlines growing concern from pressures such as pollution, over-fishing and climate change.
It says by 2050 most of the top predators will have all but disappeared and the region’s fisheries will be heavily dominated by smaller species lower down the food chain such as Japanese scad—a fish that is on average only 25cm in length.
Other predicted changes include a continued and widespread increase in nitrogen levels, especially in the eastern part of the North West Pacific region.
This is linked with discharges of wastewaters and agricultural runoff from the land and, to an extent, emissions from vehicles and shipping.
A press statement announcing the new report says nitrogen can trigger algal blooms, which in turn can poison fish and other marine creatures as well as contribute to the development of so called ‘dead zones’ – areas of sea with low oxygen concentrations.
The Marine Biodiversity Assessment, on behalf of countries to the North-West Pacific Action Plan (NOWPAP), also flags concerns over the rise in alien invasive species, transported to the region from elsewhere often in or on ships, and a rise in extinctions of native marine species.
The report says: “By 2050 invasive species are predicted to increase towards the north (near the polar areas) in the region. Extinctions are predicted to be most prevelant in the marine area between Japan and Korea and the northern area offshore of Russia.”
Why will extinctions happen?
Explaining why extinctions will happen, the statement says “There is already evidence that concentrations of aragonite is falling across the region as C02 concentrations increase – a trend that is set to continue and at ever lower depths unless global greenhouse gas emissions are significantly reduced.”
It indicates that shell-building marine organisms such as corals and copepods at the base of the food chain which will be affected as a result of rising concentrations of C02 called acidification need minerals like aragonite to make their calcium skeletons.
In his reaction to the report, Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP
Executive Director, said: “Decoupling growth from rising levels of pollution is the number one challenge facing this generation – this is nowhere more starkly spotlighted than in the current and future health of the world’s sea and oceans”.
“Multi-trillion dollar services, including fisheries, climate-control and ones underpinning industries such as tourism are at risk if impacts on the marine environment continue unchecked and unabated. Governments are rising to the challenge through actions under regional seas programme. This, and 17 other companion reports, underlines that ambition and actions now need to match the scale and the urgency of the challenge,” he added.
The NOWPAP report, one of 18 Regional Seas reports released Tuesday at the 10th Meeting of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, has been compiled by UNEP to support the governments of China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation who are signatories to NOWPAP.
The report makes a series of recommendations in order to boost sustainable development in the region, accelerate a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy and contribute to meeting the poverty-related Millennium Development Goals.
Meanwhile, it is largely envisaged that moving forward on preparing National Programmes of Action (NPAs) for the protecting the environment from land-based activities will be key.
To that end, the Republic of Korea has already completed and submitted its NPA in 2006, while the Russian Federation has one for the Arctic which could be extended.
In 2007, Japan also enacted an equivalent of the NPA: the Basic Act on Ocean Policy, and established a legal system which regulates land-based activities in order to protect the marine environment, while China has an NPA under preparation.
The United Nations Environment Programme opines that countries should adopt and act on international provisions of the International Convention for the Control and Management of Ships’ Ballast Water and Sediments: one important step towards cutting introductions of alien invasive species.
However, only the Republic of Korea has ratified the treaty although Japan has signaled it is keen to turn the ballast water convention into national law.
The challenge, which is underlined in the report with shipping figures, indicates that since 1990, growth in total shipping traffic in the region has grown from 5 million tons in 1995 to over 20 million tons in 2008. In China alone, it has grown from 2.5 million tons to close to 15 million over the same period.
According to UNEP, extending marine protected areas from the current 87, covering around four million hectares – well managed marine protected areas can for example improve spawning rates and fish stocks, as well as implementing the Food and Agricultural Organisation’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries.
The Code of Conduct, which currently has Japan and the Republic of Korea being the best adherents, covers such issues as regulation and monitoring of fish stocks and fishing gear as well as embodying the precautionary principle for stocks.
At present, around 30 per cent of fish stocks in the region are classed as exploited and around 30 per cent are over exploited. Over 25 per cent are considered collapsed and the rest are classed as ‘rebuilding’.
The UNEP press statement adds too that if climate change is unchecked, surface sea temperatures could rise from around 14 degrees Celsius to over 16 degrees Celsius by 2100, with important implications for coral reefs and other temperature-sensitive marine organisms.
The Northwest Pacific Action Plan (NOWPAP) was adopted in 1994 by the four Member States, the People’s Republic of China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation as a part of the UNEP Regional Seas Programme. The implementation of NOWPAP is financed mainly by contributions from the Members.
The Northwest Pacific region features coastal and island ecosystems with spectacular marine life and commercially important fishing resources and is also one of the most densely populated parts of the world, resulting in enormous pressures and demands on the environment.
The overall goal of the NOWPAP is the wise use, development and management of the marine and coastal environment for human populations, while securing the region’s sustainability for future generations.
By Edmund Smith-Asante