The Ocean covers 70% of our planet. It produces half of the oxygen we are breathing right now, plays a crucial role in climate regulation, and provides food and livelihoods to hundreds of millions of people worldwide. As a scuba diver, I’ve travelled all around the world hunting for the other treasures the ocean holds for all of us: beauty and inspiration. Follow me now into the depths of the sea. Jump in and discover the clockwork mechanics of your life support system. Allow yourself to be amazed. Allow yourself to be outraged. Allow your empathy to reach beyond the thin borders of our species and to touch nature, feel nature… In the awe of wilderness, our minds and hearts are reminded of the primal urge to witness nature’s untamed marvels.
This economic valuation of ecosystem services fails to capture the beauty of nature, the intrinsic value of each plant and animal. How could we quantify the value of knowing that dolphins and whales soar free in the ocean, that rays and sharks still exist? In the past century, we have lost 90% of global fish biomass. 90% of the Great Barrier Reef is bleaching, right now. 100 million sharks are killed for fins every year. The list goes on. Why. Why is this happening? Certainly human overpopulation plays a critical role in the problem, but there is also a deep flaw in our economic system. Something called externalities. It is standard practice to pass the negative effects of business as usual onto the environment and onto people. Today, we need to harness the beast. We need to domesticate capitalism in order to prevent the catastrophic devastation of the environment, and it collateral effect on human health and well-being that we are increasingly witnessing.
So here we are. Wondering how we can steer the ship. How science and policy can act in synergy to prevent catastrophe. But we’re fighting for something greater than economic damages to ecosystem services. We’re fighting for our spirit. We’re fighting for the human soul. Because if the great barrier reef dies, something inside of you dies with it. If the whales and dolphins go extinct, a string of your heart goes with them. We fight for them, and we fight for us. To preserve the diversity of the natural world is to preserve the diversity of our minds and the dignity of future generations. You are the Ocean.
Extract from the keynote presentation The Ocean and Us delivered at United Nations Environment Programme Science-Policy forum in Nairobi, Kenya, May 2016.