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Ocean renaissance for a healthier planet

23 January 2018

The ocean is a prerequisite for life on earth, but despite that, we know more about the surface of Mars and Venus than of the ocean floor. If we knew more about the ocean and the consequences human activities cause, we would be able do something about the state of the ocean. That was a key message from oceanographer Gregory Stone, during a Lighthouse and Stena seminar in January.

Greg Stone is an oceanographer and chief scientist for oceans at Conservation International. He is one of the world's leading authorities on marine conservation policy and ocean health issues and is currently vice chair of the World Economic Forum's Global Council on Ocean Governance.

In January, he visited Sweden and Gothenburg to speak about the oceans and his book “Soul of the Sea in the Age of the Algorithm”. The seminar, arranged by Lighthouse and Stena, can be seen below.

Down at the sea floor
Greg Stone is an experienced diver with more than 8000 dives and he has dived to 18000 feet in submersibles. And in the early 1990s, while exploring the deep sea in a submarine, Greg Stone experienced a career-changing event.

- One day I was diving in the Sea of Japan between Korea and Japan at 18000 feet, (6000 m), and I got down to the sea floor, and was at a place that literally have not seen the light of day for billions of years, and what I saw was trash. We landed in the salacious muds and there were plastic bottles there was a cardboard I remember, there was a little doll and cigarette lighters. Here we had spoiled an area of the seafloor before we had even had a chance to explore it. It would have been like one of the astronauts that went to the moon, having to kick coke bottles to the side as he stepped off the lunar lander. That was a turning point for me and my career, says Greg Stone.

Greg changed his path in life and started to pursue marine conservation.

- That's what I call the consequence of knowing. Once you become aware of a problem, in my view there's a consequence to that knowledge, which is, if you can do something about it, you should.

How do we garden planet Earth?
Greg Stone describes the ocean as an incredibly complex blanket of saltwater that harbors most of the life on our planet. Most of the diversity of life on the planet is in the ocean and it's really a life support system. There are plenty of examples in our solar system what a planet without an ocean look like.

- We haven't quite figured out how to manage the Earth yet, how to garden the Earth, Greg Stone says. The fundamental problem is our use of resources, not necessarily the number of people on the planet, it's how we are habitating the planet. We have not figured out how to live on this planet with so many of us and that is the principal problem of our time, the principal problems for our future. How do we live on the planet and support the ocean so that the ocean can support us?

Non-sustainable fishing, ocean acidification and marine pollution are examples of problems the ocean suffers from. And the overall problem is that we're taking too much out of the ocean that we want and we're putting too much into the ocean of things that we don't want, plastic bottles, CO2, fish, and so on.

- We have to think about the new normal, it's time we see humanity not as a problem, but as a natural evolution of our habitation of the earth and then manage our resources accordingly. It's just impossible for us to go backwards, we are now part of the oceans ecosystem.

Ocean Health Index
In order to measure the health of the ocean, the Ocean Health Index (OHI) has been developed. The index is a comprehensive global measurement of ocean health that includes people as part of the ocean ecosystem.

- The breakthrough idea was that we put humans in the ecosystem, we didn't remove people from the ocean and then measure a healthy ocean, we put them in it and a healthy ocean is one that's defined as a system that supplies sustainable benefits to people now and into the future.

The index is built around ten goals, each goal representing something that the ocean provides to the people. Read more about the goals here:

The current global score is 70 out of 100. “A score of 70 tell us that while the ocean isn’t “dying” it is a far cry from the desired score of 100 for a healthy, sustainably managed ocean.” OHI writes on their webpage.

- With the right remedial help, the right assistance, we can get up to a higher score and importantly, the index can be scaled. We can do an Ocean Health Index for Gothenburg harbour, for the North Atlantic Ocean, or for a remote atoll. We designed it so that managers and countries can use it as a management tool, Greg Stone says.

Complicated but still simple future
A lot needs to be done, but still Greg Stone is optimistic for the future.

- It's a different kind of a future than you might think, in other words, it's not a future of wide-open pristine ocean, it's an ocean with us in it. It's an ocean with energy generation systems from the tides with windmills, with perhaps aquaculture operations that we can't even imagine today, that will provide the protein to feed the planet. It'll have a shipping industry to keep moving goods around and maybe ships that, as they move through the water, they clean the waters, they improve the health of the ocean because it's being used.

- The future in my view is really very complicated, but in other ways quite simple. It's managing the materials and the energy that we have on the planet, remember everything we've ever had and everything we ever will have, is currently on the Earth. We can't get resupplied, so it's managing the material, the energy, the food and importantly the climate.

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