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A deep dive into Zero Hunger: farming the seas

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With the world population expected to rise to 9.7 billion by 2050, food production will need to keep pace, and experts believe the Ocean can provide much of the sustenance we need. The second story in our two-part series on aquaculture focuses on the opportunities for significantly scaling up fish farming.

Aquaculture, or fish farming, is one of the fastest growing food-production sectors in the world, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), reaching an all-time record high of 114.5 million tonnes in 2018. Asian countries continue to account for the vast majority of farmed fish production, some 90 per cent over the last two decades and, since 2016, aquaculture has been the main source of fish available for human consumption. 

Overfishing of wild fish is an ongoing problem, and the FAO warned in its 2020 World Fisheries and Aquaculture report, that the status of fish stocks are deteriorating: around 30 per cent are not within biologically sustainable levels, and some 60 per cent are at near capacity.

Aquaculture is expected to further dominate the seafood market in the coming years and, in the same report, the FAO declared that it could have a transformational impact on the way we feed the global population, if it is managed sustainably. 

Persistent environmental challenges

Wenche Grønbrekk is the chairperson of the United Nations Global Compact Local Network for Norway, a group of private companies that have agree to work towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).   She is also an executive at salmon farming company Cermaq, which is based in Norway, Chile, and Canada. She says that the amount of seafood currently farmed could, in fact, be sustainably increased six-fold, given the right conditions.

However, she acknowledges that environmental challenges persist. The detrimental effects of aquaculture include the destruction of marine habitats, the use of harmful chemicals and veterinary drugs, and the production of waste.

“The farmed fish industry is still relatively young and, despite the bad reputation it has had, it has developed a lot. Today, it has a strong focus on sustainability, and salmon farming, for example, is the most technologically advanced form of aquaculture. I’ve been encouraged to see that there is a real will to lift standards in the industry, and an understanding that, by working together on sustainable development issues, we will all benefit.”

Cermaq is a founding member of Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS), an industry group that is supporting the UN Global Compact’s Sustainable Ocean Business Action Platform, which promotes the central role that seafood has to play in feeding the growing world population. 

Martin Exel, the managing director of SeaBOS, agrees that the aquaculture sector only has itself to blame for the reputation it has acquired. “We have had some bad actors, who have done the wrong things and, frankly, broken the rules”, he says. Nevertheless, he is confident that the industry is moving in the right direction:

“SeaBOS brings together some of the biggest companies in the industry, and we’re having frank discussions about the challenges we face. These include climate change impacts, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, modern slavery, the removal of ocean plastics, and how to reduce the use of antibiotics in aquaculture, especially those that are critical for human health.”

According to Mr. Exel, the seafood companies in SeaBOS understand the importance of environmental and economic sustainability, which includes looking after the people working in the business, and gaining the trust and respect of the community, and consumers.  

“The fact is that aquaculture is the best way to help feed some 10 billion people in the coming years”, says Mr. Exel. “It can be scaled up in a healthy and sustainable way, which is why our members are working closely with scientists to advance the technology that will ensure that we can effectively solve the food productions challenges that we are all facing.”

Developing a blue economy

Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, is confident that, if managed properly, the Ocean will play a major role in ending hunger worldwide.

“The potential of the sustainable blue economy (the development of oceanic economic activities in an integrated and sustainable way) to feed the world is immense. Never forget that the Ocean covers 70 per cent of the planet’s surface and that well over 90 per cent of the planet’s living space is below the Ocean’s surface.”

“Through the development of new forms of sustainable aquaculture with appropriate species and feeds, mariculture (the farming of organisms in marine environments), shellfish farming, and much greater attention to macroalgae (seaweed) for human and animal food, the Ocean will provide us with a large proportion of the nutritious food we need.”

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UNESCO ‘eDNA’ initiative to ‘unlock’ knowledge for biodiversity protection

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To understand the richness of biodiversity across World Heritage marine sites, the UN scientific organization launched on Monday a project to protect and preserve biodiversity, based on the study of environmental DNA – cellular material released from living things into their surroundings. 

Launching the new programme, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said that scientists and local residents would take samples of genetic material from fish waste, mucous membranes or cells, eDNA, to monitor species. 

Marine World Heritage sites play a critical role in protecting marine ecosystems of exceptional universal value and provide opportunities for the public to appreciate and preserve marine environments”, reminded UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Culture, Ernesto Ottone Ramírez. 

Species under threat 

UNESCO said that the two-year initiative would help measure the vulnerability of marine biodiversity to climate change and its impact on the distribution and migration patterns of marine life across World Heritage sites. 

The eDNA project, which involves collecting and analyzing samples from the environment – such as soil, water and air – rather than an individual organism, will also better monitor and protect endangered species included in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.  

Climate change is affecting the behaviour and distribution of underwater life and we must understand what is happening so we can adapt our conservation efforts to evolving conditions”, explained the UNESCO official. 

Beneath the waves 

UNESCO’s marine World Heritage sites are recognized for their unique biodiversity, outstanding ecosystems, or for representing major stages in Earth’s history.  

In the context of the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030), the project was launched to contribute to the understanding of global trends and knowledge to preserve marine ecosystems. 

Since 1981, when Australia’s Great Barrier Reef was inscribed at UNESCO’s first marine site, a global network of 50 others are now included as “beacons of hope for healing the ocean”, according to the UN agency. 

Guided by expert support, the eDNA project will engage local citizens to gather material, so samples such as particles gathered through water filtering, can be genetically sequenced in specialized laboratories, without having to disturb animals themselves.   

Implemented by UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) and World Heritage Centre, IOC chief Vladimir Ryabinin described the project as “a step toward the Ocean Decade’s vision of unlocking the knowledge we need to create the ocean we want by 2030”. 

Breaking new ground 

The use of eDNA in ocean monitoring and data collection is still in its infancy and standard protocols for sampling and data management will be streamlined in UNESCO’s groundbreaking eDNA project.  

For the first time, it will apply a consistent methodology across multiple marine protected areas simultaneously, helping establish global standards, data monitoring and management practices while making that information available to the public. 

All data will be processed and published by the Ocean Biodiversity Information System (OBIS), the world’s largest open-access data system on the distribution and diversity of marine species, maintained and collectively supported by a worldwide network of scientists, data managers and users.  

Sustainability goal 

The project works to advance the world’s understanding of life in the ocean, and establish conservation and management policies indicators.   

“eDNA sampling can provide an innovative, affordable, and long-awaited capacity to better understand the ocean ecosystems, their composition and behaviour, and to start managing ocean resources more sustainably”, said Mr. Ryabinin. 

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Act Urgently to Preserve Biodiversity for Sustainable Future — ADB President

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The world must act urgently to preserve ecosystems and biodiversity for the sake of a sustainable future and prosperity, Asian Development Bank (ADB) President Masatsugu Asakawa said at the opening of a global event on biodiversity here today.

“The world is at a critical turning point. If we are to reverse the alarming decline in nature, we must respond with urgency and coordinated action,” Mr. Asakawa said. “These efforts are needed to ensure the survival of our ecosystems, and for the sake of our shared future and prosperity.”  

Asia and the Pacific is one of the most biodiverse regions in the world—home to 17 of the 36 global biodiversity hotspots, 7 of the 17 megadiverse countries, and the greatest marine diversity. “If restored and well-managed, these natural capital assets can help to mitigate global climate change and biodiversity loss in a cost-effective and impactful manner,” Mr. Asakawa said in his opening remarks at the Ecological Civilization Forum at the 15th Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP15) in Kunming, the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  

The event is cohosted by the PRC’s Ministry of Ecology and Environment, Yunnan provincial government, and the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity. Participants include high-level representatives from governments, the private sector, development agencies including ADB, and civil society. 

ADB is committed to helping accelerate and increase nature-positive investments in Asia and the Pacific. “Through our ADB Nature-Positive Investment Roadmap, we are working with partners to scale up finance, develop knowledge of natural capital, and generate financially sustainable projects that deliver on biodiversity and healthy ecosystems,” Mr. Asakawa said.

At COP15, ADB is launching a new publication, Greening Development in the People’s Republic of China, which outlines how ADB and the PRC have successfully partnered to promote green development and ecological restoration in a way that complements economic and social priorities. 

In partnership with the Chinese Academy of Science and Stanford University, ADB is sharing progress on its new Natural Capital Lab due for launch in 2022. This will be a digital platform for sharing methods for valuing biodiversity and ecosystems, and for building knowledge, capacities, and alliances across the region.  

In addition, ADB with partners will be launching the Regional Flyway Initiative that will conserve ecosystem services that support people and critical habitats for more than 50 million migratory waterbirds.

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Greenpeace Africa reacts to DRC President’s decision to suspend illegal logging concessions

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forest

The President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Félix Tshisekedi, ordered on Friday, October 15th, the suspension of all dubious logging concessions, including the 6 granted in September 2020. Greenpeace Africa, one of the civil society organizations that denounced these concessions, applauds the decision taken by the Head of State and encourages him to remain vigilant and ensure its effective execution by Deputy Prime Minister Ms. Eve Bazaiba.

Greenpeace Africa reiterates its call for maintaining the moratorium on new industrial logging concessions to prevent a human rights and climate catastrophe. This logging sector, characterized by bad governance, favors corruption and remains out of touch with the socio-economic needs of the Congolese people and the climate crisis we live in.

Irène Wabiwa Betoko, Head of the International Congo Basin Forest Project of Greenpeace: “The decision of H.E. President Tshisekedi against the illegal actions of former Minister Nyamugabo sends an important message to the Congolese people and their government. It is also a red light for the plans of Ms. Ève Bazaiba, current Minister of the Environment, to open a highway to deforestation by multinational logging companies through lifting the moratorium on new industrial concessions.”

The President asks to “Suspend all questionable contracts pending the outcome of an audit and report them to the government at the next cabinet meeting.” Greenpeace Africa maintains that the review of illegalities in the forest sector must be transparent, independent, and open to comments from civil society organizations.

Ms. Wabiwa adds that “Both the protection of the rights of Congolese peoples and the success of COP26 require that the moratorium on granting new forest titles be strengthened. We again call on President Tshisekedi to strengthen the 2005 presidential decree to extend the moratorium.”

Ms. Wabiwa concludes that “instead of allowing new avenues of destruction, the DRC needs a permanent forest protection plan, taking into account the management by the local and indigenous populations who live there and depend on them for their survival.”

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