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Keeping true to the spirit of World Oceans Day

Times Colonist by Carol Amaratunga 07 June 2017

A quarter of a century ago, on June 8, 1992, at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, a dedicated team from Canada’s International Centre for Ocean Development and the Ocean Institute of Canada launched the first World Oceans Day.

It was a landmark exercise in planning. Oceans Day 1992 called upon world governments to remediate the early signs of global warming and climate change. Our objective was to move the oceans from the fringe to the centre of intergovernmental sustainable-development discussions and policy.

We were concerned that the world ocean, so crucial for oxygen production, food and ultimately for sustaining life on our planet, had not been receiving adequate attention. In 1987, the Brundtland Report, the World Commission on Environment and Development, warned that the oceans were a neglected sector in the debate on sustainable economic development.

World Oceans Day was formally acknowledged and adopted by the United Nations in 2008. The spirit survived, indeed thrived, as a worldwide public engagement and citizen-science movement thanks to the efforts of ordinary citizens, including volunteers, school children, NGOs, community organizations, museums, aquaria and participating government agencies. Every year on June 8, citizens around the world celebrate and give voice to the ocean sector. World Oceans Day today is a global social movement, a people’s movement, one that raises critical awareness about the health of the world’s living marine resources and coastal habitats.

As we approach the 25th Oceans Day anniversary on Thursday, all Canadians, a mari usque ad mare ad mare, are invited to participate in World Oceans Day. The message is essentially the same as it was 25 years ago: Our future, indeed the fate of humanity and all living creatures on the blue planet, depends upon conscientious stewardship of the world ocean.

In reflecting back to 1992, it was evident that humanity was beginning to face threats of enormous import, including seminal signs of global warming and climate change. We knew then that the health of the world’s populations depends ultimately upon the health of the world ocean.

Oceans Day 1992 acknowledged that “the oceans and atmosphere together form the global commons, the common heritage we share.” In the words of the late Arthur May, president of Memorial University: “If our biosphere ceases to be viable, at least for that life form we call human, the other issues won’t matter much in the longer term, at least not to our descendants.”

In planning Oceans Day 1992 our subject was simply: The Blue Planet and the Earth Summit. Our goal was to engage the public and support scientists, community leaders, and decision makers to affirm the world ocean as a global engine that drives and supports life on this planet.

Today, World Oceans Day is recognized as a public good. Endorsed by the United Nations, it represents a powerful voice for the ocean sector. World Oceans Day 2017 endorses science and citizenship partnerships and strengthens co-management and the stewardship of the oceans.

Twenty-five years later, the principles of the first Oceans Day charter ring true:

• “Preservation of our Blue Planet will hinge on our collective will and capacity.

• “We need to address more concretely how the immediate needs of communities dependent on the oceans can be met.

• “A new working vision for the oceans should be formulated. It is clear that the present management regimes are not working. Approaches based on the twin principles of sustainability of the resources and integrity of the ocean environment are needed.

• “Sustainable development must be founded on creative and ethical principles of resource use and conservation that will benefit future generations.”

Canada is truly an ocean nation, and this year, World Oceans Day 2017 will engage Canadians and communities around the globe. We share responsibility for the stewardship of not only our three oceans — the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific — but also the greater world ocean.

Oceans Day 2017 provides an opportunity, indeed a social imperative, to reflect upon the health of our planet and to support marine science. By looking back, we have the opportunity also to look forward. The citizen-science movement and those who provide mentorship and evidence-informed public-education programs deserve our respect and gratitude.

This year, on June 8, as we approach Canada’s 150th anniversary, we need, more than ever, to promote and protect the health of the Blue Planet commons.

Carol Amaratunga, PhD, is a freelance writer and social-policy researcher who lives in Oak Bay. She was the global education and training program director with the International Centre for Ocean Development from 1986 to 1992.