Warming trends rise in large ocean areas: study

HANOI (Reuters) -Warming trends in a third of the world’s large ocean regions are two to four times greater than previously reported averages, increasing the risk to marine life and fisheries, a U.N.-backed environmental study said.

Fishermen unload fish along a coastline in Manila April 9, 2008. REUTERS/Cheryl Ravelo

Overfishing, coastal pollution and degradation of water quality were common in all 64 large marine ecosystems studied by scientists who contributed to the U.N. Environmental Program report presented at an international conference on oceans, coasts and islands in Vietnam this week.

“These marine ecosystems are under great stress and that stress is increasing because of climate change, by global warming,” co-author Ken Sherman of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said in an interview.

“We really need to have policy makers and donors recognize that we need to fund efforts to reduce the stress,” Sherman said.

The report said that in 18 of the 64 regions, “the accelerated warming trends are 2-4 times greater than the average trends reported in 2007 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”.

The week-long 4th global conference on oceans, coasts and islands in Hanoi is a forum for developing countries trying to improve ocean governance and coastal management, especially in the light of climate change.

U.S. academic and conference co-chair Biliana Cicin-Sain said there had been widespread changes in management of national jurisdiction.

“But governance of the 64 percent of the ocean that lies beyond national jurisdiction remains largely sectoral based and fragmented, making it difficult to address the effects of uses.”


Scientists said the 800-page report focuses on the risk to the sustainability of the $12.6 trillion value of goods and services produced each year in the so-called large marine ecosystems.

The most rapid warming was recorded in the Baltic Sea at 1.35 degrees Celsius in the past 25 years.

Other areas under threat included the Yellow Sea, one of the most heavily over-fished and environmentally degraded seas in the world. Hundreds of millions people live along or near its shores in China and the Korean Peninsula and pollution from industry and farmland was a particular threat.

South Korean scientist Hyung Tack Huh said China, South Korea and North Korea were working together to work out and amend plans for managing the Yellow Sea coasts and environment.

The report recommended that 29 ocean areas adjacent to developing countries should also cap the yield of annual fishery catches as a precaution.

To help poorer nations better manage marine ecosystems, the Washington-based Global Environment Facility is funding projects worth $1.8 billion in 16 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Monique Barbut, chief executive officer of the GEF, said in an interview that oceans had been taken for granted in the global warming debate, including the Kyoto Protocol talks in Bali, Indonesia last year and the Convention on Biodiversity.

“The message that has to be brought into the Bali roadmap and the follow up to the climate change talks is how all the international waters are ecosystems which suffer from climate change and the risks they are putting to world security,” Barbut said.

“Risks are increasing in terms of food security, immigration and diseases because of the non-protection of international waters.”

About 190 nations agreed in Bali last year to launch two years of talks to work out a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, which binds only rich nations to greenhouse gas emission curbs till 2012.

Vietnam, which has a 3,200 km (2,000 miles) coastline and one of the fastest-expanding economies in the world after China, is the first country outside of Europe to host the conference at which 430 delegates from about 70 countries are attending.

Editing by David Fogarty