Oceans Governance and Maritime Strategy

By David Wilson; Dick Sherwood | Go to book overview

17
Oceanography's contribution
to oceans management
Andrew Forbes

The ocean commons are orders of magnitude larger than terrestrial commons. Even the largest common land, Antarctica, is tiny compared to the area of the oceans, yet we have difficulty collectively managing even that territory. We aspire to manage the oceans, but there is no single or collective convention, treaty or agreement on which we can confidently model oceans governance.

The physical scale, although daunting, should not, and is not, preventing individuals, institutions and governments from tackling the problem. Why? Because there is a critical mass of people who care about our oceans, some for conservation or preservation, some for natural resource extraction, some for commerce, recreation or defence. Others value the oceans in the realisation that they still contain the key to understanding the present climate variability, and possibly predicting future climate trends.

In order to manage the largest, most complex habitat on the planet, we clearly need to progress beyond our rudimentary knowledge of the role that the oceans play in our existence. Walter Munk, renowned Scripps oceanographer, notes, ‘the oceans are not only the largest reservoir of heat on earth, they are also a reservoir of ignorance’.

Of course, we cannot afford to postpone active management and governance of the oceans until we understand all physical, chemical and biological processes in the oceans. Neither can we wait until all the oceans are mapped, both in the water column and on the seabed, to distinguish robust ecosystems from fragile, ocean forests from ocean deserts. Future discoveries about how

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