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Two decades on and ocean recognition is rising

20 June 2012

RIO+20 logoPML's Dr Carol Turley is on the road to Rio with a message for world leaders to keep the ocean and the serious issues it faces at the top of the agenda at an international conference later this month.

Representing a number of key national and international scientific projects and supported by an impressive group of reputable global organisations, Dr Turley is confident the groundswell of support for the messages she will deliver shows a growing concern for the ocean in the face of three recently revealed stressors – ocean warming, acidification and deoxygenation.

World leaders and thousands of other participants from governments, the private sector, NGOs and other groups will be meeting in Rio de Janeiro 20-22 June, in an endeavour to agree ways to reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection as the population of our already crowded planet hurtles towards 9 billion.

The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) will mark the twentieth anniversary of the UN Conference on Environment and Development – the Earth (Rio) Summit of 1992 – when countries adopted Agenda 21, a blueprint that has crafted much global thinking and actions bringing economics, environment, and society together for a sustainable future.

Despite covering three-quarters of our planet, containing 96% of its living space, providing almost half of the oxygen in the atmosphere and feeding billions of people worldwide, the ocean has remained a poor relation since the Earth Summit two decades ago, but now the tide is turning and the recognition of the importance of the ocean is rising. Hopes are high amongst a wide range of stakeholders that the ocean will have a high priority at Rio+20 deserving of its key role in maintaining life on Earth.

Set against a backdrop of pollution, over-exploitation of ocean resources such as fisheries, coastal development and other ‘traditional’ threats to ocean sustainability are the relative newcomers - the three stressors of ocean warming, acidification and deoxygenation, all related to the growing amounts of carbon dioxide being pumped into the atmosphere from our industries, ultimately to end up in and impact our seas and the life they sustain.

Dr Carol Turley has spent much of the last decade bringing these issues to the attention of policy makers and a wider stakeholder community, she will be at Rio+20 to raise the profile even higher. Amongst the events she has been invited to speak at are a number of pre-conference ‘side-events’- briefing sessions that get to the heart of issues, inform politicians and their advisers, and suggest actions to overcome any challenges.

Beginning as scientifically interesting phenomena the three CO2 related stressors have emerged as key issues facing the ocean and its ability to provide the goods and services needed by the human race and the wider environment. Addressing the future of a ‘hot, sour and breathless’ ocean is now a matter of great urgency. As well as speaking at a wide range of events at Rio+20 Dr Turley will be working with eminent colleagues from across the globe in efforts to ensure the ocean and its plight is not overlooked:

“Two decades ago these three stressors were largely unrecognised at The Earth Summit, but since that time their importance for the environment and human society has gradually become apparent. It is through targeted research that this realisation has become widespread in scientific circles, now the job is to make sure the policy makers base their decisions for the future of the ocean and the planet on this sound science. If we humans keep up our current behaviour we now know that there will be potentially serious impacts on the ocean and its ability to continue to sustain the variety of life on Earth we see today. Any changes will have consequences for the Earth’s human population too. It is not too late for us to do something about these potential threats and I have high hopes that we can get the science across during these meetings in Rio, so that the policies and recommendations that come out of the conference take the importance of the ocean into consideration.”