HUMAN WELL-BEING & THE OCEAN
The fates of the ocean and humanity are increasingly intertwined. Ocean health and human health intersect in other important, but sometimes less obvious ways. Fishery declines have been linked to human trafficking when, for example, child and slave labor is used to capture increasingly rare fish. Another example: some analysts suggest that piracy in Somalia and West Africa can partially be explained by disenfranchised fishermen turning to violence in order to protect decreasing offshore fish stocks.
The value of ocean resources is particularly important for poor countries. Fishery net exports from developing countries alone have been valued at $37 billion, or more than value of meat, tobacco, rice, and sugar exports combined, according to a report published in 2018 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Wealthier nations are also dependent on ocean resources.
The ocean is more than a beautiful home to inspiring wildlife; it is a critically important source of nutritious food, income, jobs, and global stability. The ocean yields $2.5 trillion annually in goods and services, according to a “conservative” estimate published in 2017 by the consultancy BCG, making it equivalent to one of the largest single economies in the world. The ocean provides millions of jobs in fishing, aquaculture, tourism, energy, transportation, and biotechnology.
The ocean acts as a massive refrigerator of free-range, highly nutritious food fit for human consumption. According to the FAO, fish provide more than 3.1 billion people with at least 20% of their animal protein, and serve as a critically important source of nutrients essential to good health like iron, zinc, and omega-3 fatty acids. Researchers estimate that if current trajectories for fishery decline persist, 845 million people could become at risk of diseases associated with malnutrition.
In situations where overfishing has depleted potentially lucrative species, organized crime has also escalated. In Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, for example, it is believed that drug cartels may be involved in an illicit industry that is both depleting a critically-endangered fish and threatening to trigger the extinction of the Vaquita (a small porpoise).
The collapse of cod stocks along the east coast of Canada, for example, sparked the largest mass layoffs in the country’s history and prompted large-scale migration from affected provinces. Canada spent almost $2 billion between 1994 and 1998 on aid and recovery programs aimed at coping with this social and ecological disaster.