Tag Archives: Pollution

Save a Whale, Save a Planet

By Leonardo DiCaprio

In 1997, a dramatic scene played out near Los Angeles as a newborn grey whale was discovered stranded in Marina del Rey. It had become separated from its mother during the annual migration from Alaska to Mexico. Hundreds of volunteers commandeered boats and moving vans and used makeshift stretchers to move this lone baby female whale over 100 miles to San Diego in a desperate attempt to save her life.

Named JJ by her rescuers, she arrived weak, dehydrated and disoriented-but after 18 months in care, she was restored to health and released back into the wild. While many celebrated that day, the challenges JJ overcame were nothing compared to the threats she and her entire grey whale species now face 20 years later.


Today, our oceans are under immense pressure as their waters absorb much of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pumped into the air by human activity, resulting in a 30 per cent increase in acidity. The progress of the human race, particularly since the Industrial Revolution, has resulted in devastating impacts to our entire climate, and those impacts are particularly prevalent in our oceans.

Seashells are weaker, massive ancient coral formations are bleaching and essential ecosystems are dying. The marine food chain is endangered: clams, oysters, lobsters and crabs, which are a dietary staple for large sea creatures such as seals, otters and walruses, are under the threat of extinction. Most worrisome of all, plankton, amphipods (tiny shrimp-like creatures) and other microscopic organisms that sustain mighty whales and fish of all types and sizes are becoming harder to find. This frightening trend means JJ will likely starve to death before the end of her normal lifespan, and much of the sea life that billions of humans depend on will disappear.

Unlike other threats to the ocean, such as plastic pollution and overfishing, these changes are not always easy to see, but there are obvious warnings. More than half of the world’s 17 penguin species are now endangered, largely due to climate change-related declines in their food supply. Common clams are smaller than ever-quite literally disappearing before our eyes-and humans, too, will suffer from that loss. A protein found in a common clam shell has been shown to cure cancers. Where do we turn when it’s gone?

As a result of climate change, the world’s oceans are already warming to the point where they can no longer absorb our pollution, meaning efforts to cut carbon emissions will have to go far beyond the levels laid out by the 2015 Paris Agreement if we are to avoid the most catastrophic impacts.

Sea level rise and the damage to coastal regions from more intense and long-lasting storms have already wiped out vulnerable, low-lying communities and the livelihoods of local fishers, tourism workers, farmers and so many others. Our thirst for oil has led to massive oil spills that hurt even more.


The Paris Agreement paved the way to a more sustainable future for the planet and especially its oceans. My foundation has supported research at The Solutions Project (http://thesolutionsproject.org) that shows the world could be powered by 100 per cent clean, renewable energy by 2050. In Viet Nam, mangroves are being restored along the coast to absorb carbon, provide nurseries for countless fish species and buffer the coast from violent storms. And in the same waters near Los Angeles where JJ was found two decades ago, volunteers are replanting vital giant kelp forests that are home to 800 species of other plants and animals, and that provide oxygen to the planet for everyone.

Will it be enough? Hundreds of volunteers came together to rescue JJ-people from all walks of life, all ages, all backgrounds. They checked their egos and agendas at the beach and dove in, quite literally, to save a creature in dire need. We can do so again for our oceans, for ourselves, and for our future. But just as we made a conscious decision to rescue JJ once upon a time, we are now making another equally profound choice of whether she lives a full, normal life, or whether further ocean degradation will starve her, prematurely, to death. If that happens, we are also condemning our children to a much bleaker quality of life than the one we take for granted today.

We know that humankind is powerful enough-and apparently foolish enough-to change the very chemistry of two thirds of the planet. The same alarm and urgency that arose to save JJ in 1997 needs to happen today as the massive threat to her and an entire class of marine biodiversity increases. United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 asks us to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development”. Let’s remember that this goal cannot be achieved merely by limiting the number of fish we take from the sea or ending risky oil exploration in coastal waters, but also by eliminating the threats posed to our oceans from climate change and the emissions we drive here on land.

Author bio: Leonardo DiCaprio is an Academy Award-winning actor, producer and activist. He founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 1998 for biodiversity and habitat conservation, and climate change solutions. Mr. DiCaprio is a United Nations Messenger of Peace for climate change, and a recipient of the Clinton Global Citizen Award and the World Economic Forum Crystal Award. He serves on the boards of the World Wildlife Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic’s Pristine Seas, Oceans 5, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The Role of the International Maritime Organization in Preventing the Pollution of the World’s Oceans from Ships and Shipping

By Kitack Lim

Shipping is a key user of the oceans, delivering more than 80 per cent of world trade, taking ferry passengers to their destinations and carrying millions of tourists on cruises. Annually, more than 50,000 seagoing ships carry between them more than 10 billion tons1 of vital and desired cargoes, including commodities, fuel, raw materials and consumer goods.

As the United Nations agency responsible for developing and adopting measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping and to prevent pollution from ships, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has an integral role in meeting the targets set out in United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

The increase in the number and the size of ships and the volume of cargo carried over the past five decades has gone hand in hand with the work of IMO, through its 172 member States, to create the legal and technical framework within which shipping has become progressively cleaner and safer. Of course, there remains work to be done. IMO will continue its efforts, in partnership with member States and other organizations, to implement and support the enforcement of its regulations.

Formed by means of the 1948 Convention on the International Maritime Organization, IMO initially focused on maritime safety and navigation. Then, in the 1960s, the world became more aware of the spillage of oil into the oceans and seas through accidents or as a result of poor operating practices. Spurred by major oil pollution incidents, such as the Torrey Canyon disaster off the south-west coast of the United Kingdom in 1967, IMO embarked on an ambitious programme of work on marine pollution prevention and response, and on liability and compensation issues. A key outcome was the adoption, in 1973, of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, universally known as MARPOL.

From the start, MARPOL addressed not just pollution by oil from ships (covered in Annex I) but also noxious liquid substances, such as chemicals, carried in bulk (Annex II); harmful substances carried in packaged form (Annex III); sewage discharges into the sea (Annex IV); and the disposal at sea of ship-generated garbage (Annex V). Under Annex V, a general prohibition applies to discharging all garbage from ships, while discharging plastics is subject to a total, globally applicable ban.

Later, in 1997, IMO added a new Annex VI to MARPOL dealing with atmospheric pollution from ships. Today, Annex VI addresses air pollution from sulphur and other harmful emissions, such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. In 2011, IMO became the first international regulator for a transport sector to adopt globally binding energy efficiency requirements, which apply to all ships globally, regardless of trading pattern or flag State, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping.

MARPOL Annex VI also incorporates regulations for ozone-depleting substances, volatile organic compounds, shipboard incinerators, reception facilities and fuel oil quality. All these measures have a significant, beneficial impact on the atmospheric environment, and also on human health for people living in or near port cities and coastal communities.

Under MARPOL Annex VI, Emission Control Areas (ECAs) for sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions have been designated, with a strict 0.10 per cent by mass (m/m) limit on sulphur in fuel oil. In a move that demonstrates a clear commitment by IMO to ensuring that shipping meets its environmental obligations, the global sulphur limit outside ECAs will be cut to 0.50 per cent m/m, from 3.5 per cent m/m, from 1 January 2020.

Today, the expanded, amended and updated MARPOL Convention remains the most important, as well as the most comprehensive, international treaty covering the prevention of both marine and atmospheric pollution by ships, from operational or accidental causes. By providing a solid foundation for substantial and continued reductions in ship-source pollution, the Convention continues to be relevant today.

MARPOL also recognizes the need for more stringent requirements to manage and protect so-called Special Areas, due to their ecology and their sea traffic. A total of 19 Special Areas have been designated. They include enclosed or semi­enclosed seas, such as the Mediterranean Sea, Baltic Sea, Black Sea and Red Sea areas, and much larger ocean expanses such as the Southern South Africa waters and the Western European waters. This recognition of Special Areas, alongside global regulation, is a clear indication of a strong IMO awareness of—and total commitment to—the fundamental importance of protecting and preserving the world’s seas and oceans as vital life support systems for all peoples.

The Antarctic has enjoyed Special Area status since 1992. Oily discharges into the sea and garbage disposal overboard are totally prohibited. In addition, a total ban on the carriage or use of heavy fuel oils took effect on 1 August 2011 under a new MARPOL Annex I regulation. Polar waters also benefit from special measures under the IMO Polar Code, which entered into force on 1 January 2017 for ships operating in both Antarctic and Arctic waters.

IMO also has a process to designate Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs), which are subject to associated protective measures, such as mandatory ship-routeing systems. There are currently 14 areas (plus two extensions) protected in this way, including those covering UNESCO World Heritage Marine Sites, such as the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), the Galápagos Archipelago (Ecuador), the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (United States of America), and the Wadden Sea (Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands). This long-established practice of designating Special Areas and PSSAs fully supports the SDG 14 target to increase coverage of marine protected areas.

While MARPOL specifically targets accidental and operational discharges from ship operations, IMO also actively addresses marine pollution from land-based sources, albeit indirectly, through the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972, and its 1996 Protocol. The Protocol adopts a precautionary approach, prohibiting the discharge of wastes at sea except for a few specified on a list of permitted wastes, such as dredged material.

The London Convention and Protocol regime also contributes to climate change mitigation by regulating for carbon capture and sequestration in subsea geological formations and providing regulations and guidance on how to assess proposals for marine geoengineering.

The process of adopting all these measures at IMO begins with structured fora, in which member States debate, agree and adopt universal measures aimed at safe and sustainable shipping with minimal adverse environmental impact.

The essential path to implementation then follows. IMO works with various stakeholders and partners to build capacity and expertise among its member States to write IMO standards into their own national maritime legislation, and then to implement and enforce that legislation effectively.

IMO has a long history of working with key donors, including the European Union, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the Korea International Cooperation Agency, and shipping and maritime organizations such as IPIECA, the global oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues.

A large number of marine environmental projects have been implemented, with support from a range of regional organizations, including the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea, the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment, the Commission on the Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution, and the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme.

IMO has pioneered a series of projects based on a global partnership model known as Glo-X, which is being used to accelerate legal, policy and institutional reforms in developing countries to implement international conventions while, at the same time, leveraging private sector partnerships to accelerate research and development and technological innovations by forming global industry alliances and facilitating information exchange.

The GloBallast Partnerships Project (2007-2017), a joint initiative of GEF, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and IMO, has been successful in assisting developing countries in reducing the transfer of potentially harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens in ships ballast water and implementing the IMO Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention. The BWM Convention will enter into force in September 2017 and will require ships to manage their ballast water to avoid the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens, and protect the marine environment, human health, property and resources.

A second global partnerships project is the GEF-UNDP­IMO Global Maritime Energy Efficiency Partnership project (GloMEEP), which is working in 10 lead pilot countries (Argentina, China, Georgia, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, Morocco, Panama, Philippines and South Africa). It aims to create global, regional and national partnerships to build capacity to address maritime energy efficiency—in other words, to address greenhouse gas emissions from ships—and for countries to bring this into the mainstream within their own development policies, programmes and dialogues.

Another current project, funded by the European Union, is the Global Maritime Technology Cooperation Centre (MTCC) Network (GMN), which is establishing a global network of five MTCCs in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific. The aim is to help beneficiary countries limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their shipping sectors. The project will encourage the uptake of energy efficiency technologies through the dissemination of technical information and know-how.

Through this network of MTCCs, the project will enable developing countries in these regions, and in particular, least developed countries and small island developing States, to effectively implement energy efficiency measures in maritime transport through technical assistance and capacity­building. Both the GloMEEP and GMN projects will support IMO member States in climate change mitigation, the key aim of SDG 13.

In other oceans-related partnerships, IMO is a partner in, and secretariat for, the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), which advises the United Nations system on scientific components of marine environmental protection. GESAMP evaluates the environmental hazards of harmful substances carried by ships and reviews applications for “active substances” to be used in ballast water management systems, thereby providing inputs into the regulatory process at IMO. GESAMP also provides a systematic overview of new and emerging issues to inform its nine sponsoring United Nations organizations.

Recent key reports by GESAMP on microplastics in the oceans have contributed to the widening knowledge of the sources and fate of marine litter, specifically microplastics, in the oceans. IMO is also a co-lead for sea-based sources of marine litter, together with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in the Global Partnership on Marine Litter, which is managed by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The IMO track record in minimizing pollution from ships, both into the seas and oceans and into the atmosphere, speaks for itself. The Organization is fully committed to working through its member States and with its partners to continue to develop, maintain and implement a set of global regulations to ensure shipping’s sustainable use of the oceans.


1       United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Review of Maritime Transport 2016 (UNCTAD/RMT/2016), pp. X, 87. Available from http://unctad.org/en/Publicationslibrary/rmt2016_en.pdf.

Author bio:

Kitack Lim is Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization.

Portugal and the Ocean Economy

By Ana Paula Vitorino

Today, our world is facing the challenge of understanding and living through the Anthropocene. Although this epoch is not yet officially recognized, it is increasingly accepted that we are in a special subdivision of the geological timescale, one in which human activity has a direct impact on our planet in terms of climate and the availability of natural resources.

The global competition for the exploitation of natural resources to sustain current models of development originated in the recognition of the ocean as an extension of mainland territories. If for centuries the maritime space was regarded as one of mobility—a highway to other spaces—today ‘terrestrial’ concepts are being applied to the ocean.

This change is connected to an increase in knowledge about the sea and its resources, as well as the technological advances that have facilitated the exploration of the ocean. The public order of the oceans, which incorporates a substantial territorial component based on a clear division between national sovereignty and jurisdiction and the freedoms of the high seas beyond current maritime borders, served the circumstances of its time well, providing the stability and legal certainty necessary for the economy of the sea to develop and prosper.

As we now know, however, by the time that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) entered into force in 1994, a number of challenges that threaten the oceans and marine resources were becoming more visible and better understood, and were in part detached from the idea of territory and sovereignty. UNCLOS provides ways to respond to environmental problems with respect to the world’s oceans and allows us to incorporate those approaches into decision­making processes. It also gives us tools to manage such issues so that solutions beyond the national borders of each coastal State can be reached. The foundations laid down by the Convention, however, are not sufficient to respond to emerging global threats. Examples such as ocean acidification, marine pollution, the depletion of fish stocks and degradation of marine ecosystems are impossible to address and resolve solely from the viewpoint of national sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction. We need a holistic, shared approach to sustainably manage our oceans.

This is why Portugal is fully committed to working towards a new UNCLOS implementation agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. The new agreement should reflect the best science available, and the decision-making processes set out in the agreement should incorporate this concern. We should recognize the contribution that such an agreement can and should make to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 of the 2030 Agenda, which deals with oceans, and to halting and reversing the decline in ocean health.

For historical, cultural and economic reasons, the ocean has shaped the lives of the Portuguese people and the ways in which we relate to others and belong to the international community. As a maritime country, the ocean is a fundamental and formative element of our identity. In support of the objective to promote and strengthen the global governance of the oceans based on a holistic and collaborative approach, the Government of Portugal created, in 2015, the Ministry of the Sea, responsible for the coordination of maritime affairs, the promotion of a sustainable ocean economy, and the formation and monitoring of ocean policies based on scientific knowledge, innovation and technological development.

The Ministry plays a cross-cutting role, coordinating several issues and the work of corresponding institutions that have traditionally depended on other sectorial ministries. These institutions support planning and knowledge related to the oceans, as well as the implementation of policies for the protection and exploitation of marine resources; the promotion of an effective presence in the sea and its uses; a sustainable sea economy; and the coordination of national participation in European and international bodies responsible for the design and monitoring of maritime policies.

The maritime areas under national sovereignty or jurisdiction—the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf, extended within the scope of the proposal presented by the Government of Portugal to the United Nations in 2009—constitute one of the main assets for the future development of the country. The biological, genetic, mineral and energy resources that these areas contain open prospects for exploration that can establish Portugal as a model for economic growth and, above all, as a protector of marine biodiversity. Moreover, Portugal is a pioneer in the preservation of special marine ecosystems outside its EEZ, such as the hydrothermal vents in the Azores, on which Portugal reports to the network of marine protected areas established by the Commission of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (the OSPAR Commission).

Within this national context, it is important to address the challenge of balancing environmental protection and economic growth. In our opinion, technological and business innovation can reconcile the protection of marine biodiversity and the rights of sovereign States, including economic rights. For Portugal, innovation and the transfer of knowledge and expertise from the science and technology sectors to civil society paves the way for the world’s populations to have a more sustainable relationship with the marine environment, with a more efficient use of resources resulting in less impact.

Knowledge is an engine that can change the potential of Portugal’s geostrategic position in the following areas:

  1. The creation of added value in traditional economic activities, such as fisheries and port activity, enhancing the circular bioeconomy, avoiding the waste of resources and reconverting industrial waste. This refers specifically to the maximization of the use of sea life already caught, thereby reducing levels of catches, or the collection of marine litter, which can be recycled and reconverted into new products.
  2. New sources of sustainable growth provided by a set of emerging activities, from biotechnology to renewable ocean energy.
  3. The use of tools for the planning, monitoring and management of marine spaces to ensure the sustainable use of resources. Portugal is also in a position to assume a relevant role in the use of marine protected areas as an efficient mechanism for the management of specific marine ecosystems. Our short-term goal is to protect 10 per cent of our marine spaces.

In this respect we must assume a paradigm shift. We no longer want to simply monitor impacts; we will pursue a precautionary approach to avoid undertaking activities that could adversely affect the ocean.

In order to achieve all of this, we must also exercise our sovereignty.

Therefore, we want to:

  1. Ensure an effective presence in our seas through adequate defence, security and inspection capacities that integrate ships, aircraft and modern surveillance systems; support the observance of law, order and human security, defending the public interest in the maritime search and rescue zones under national jurisdiction or in partnerships; issue licences and regulate concessions of economic activities in maritime areas under national sovereignty or jurisdiction.
  2. Promote ocean literacy, a key element for raising awareness among the Portuguese population about the importance of the ocean in our daily lives and for teaching new generations about the benefits that oceanic ecosystems provide for society, through the inclusion of specific content in school curricula and sea activities in school sports programmes, as well as outreach programmes for adults.
  3. Promote sea management and the protection of natural capital and marine ecosystem resources by establishing priorities for action that preserve and enhance such capital through an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas, based on sound management plans that contribute to their valorization within the scope of the ocean economy.

For this to succeed it is essential to generate and manage knowledge on the tremendous resources of our oceans and seas. This requires a strategic investment in marine scientific research, which in the medium to long term will enable rapid and sustainable growth. The enhanced knowledge of ocean resources in the biological, biotechnological, geological, mineral, and energy fields will establish Portugal as a strategic partner in the international community. The Government is, therefore, determined to invest in generating knowledge about Portuguese seas as a strategic asset.

This commitment to ocean knowledge is aimed at fostering the national marine science and technology sectors as generators of highly qualified human capital and high-quality know-how, as well as establishing an international reputation that will allow us to introduce innovation in products and processes of the marine environment sector. Such a commitment is essential to ocean governance, as well as to further development of the national economy of the sea. Thus, knowledge about the seas and oceans will promote their sustainability. This approach will allow Portugal to compete in areas such as marine biotechnology, providing an opportunity for the creation of new and innovative pharmaceutical and medical applications; off­shore technologies, including underwater robotics, floating ocean structures and offshore platforms; and ocean monitoring systems and supercomputing modelling, which will enable continuous monitoring of the environmental state of the ocean and the impacts of human activity and climate change.

Portugal’s approach to the ocean economy corresponds with the major issues currently under discussion at the international level, such as marine genetic resources access and benefit-sharing; marine spatial management tools, including marine protected areas; environmental impact assessments; and capacity development and implementation of innovative technology. These issues are at the core of the country’s vision for a sustainable and equitable use of the ocean.

I will have the opportunity to discuss this and other issues at the Ocean Conference in New York in June 2017. I also invite everyone to the Oceans Meeting, to be held in Lisbon from 7 to 8 September 2017 under the theme “The Ocean and Human Health”. At the meeting, we intend to establish a common vision on the positive and negative effects that the oceans have on human physical and mental health.

We must all be aware of our dependence on the oceans on all levels, and we must act to ensure the sustainability of oceans now and for future generations.

Author bio: Ana Paula Vitorino is Minister of the Sea, Portugal.