My first memory of the sea is from when I was about 5 years old. I was completely amazed by its immensity, the strength of its waves and how nice the water felt on my feet. From that day on, I built a relationship with the sea, built on respect and admiration, its greatness and the dream of someday discovering the treasures it harbors.
When I grew up, my way of getting to know the ocean was through the fishermen and communities that build their lives around it. When I visited different fishing villages, surrounded by biodiversity, and saw how the lives of many are at one with the sea, it moved me to the bone.
Today, 23 years after first seeing the sea, I’m in New York, at a decisive moment for the future of the ocean, its biodiversity and all the life that depends on it. For the next two weeks, the United Nations is holding the latest session of the Preparatory Committee for the development of an international treaty to protect, the high seas and the sea bed beneath them.
That’s about 2/3 of the ocean, covering 50% of the earth’s surface. In these areas, there are seamounts with unique species, the most ancient microorganisms of the planet, migration hotspots crucial for the survival of marine species of so many different types and other wonders yet to be discovered. The benefits these areas provide us on a daily basis are innumerable: the influence on major weather events, the regulation of global climate, the production of the oxygen we breathe, migratory corridors for whales, sharks, turtles and other species.
Their protection means preserving the populations of fish, protecting vulnerable ecosystems and being better able to respond to climate change and the impacts of human activities on the ocean. And science tells us that the most effective way to protect our ocean is through a network of ocean sanctuaries, which are safe heavens in which marine life can restore and recover from decades of exploitation. This is why setting a global framework for the creation and management of Oceans Sanctuaries is essential. The fast adoption of a UN Ocean Treaty is of critical importance for the small island nations of the Pacific, which are amongst the most affected by the degradation of the oceans and the impacts of climate change. Their survival depends on healthy oceans, and is just one example of what’s at stake this week.
The effective protection of these areas is something that a country cannot achieve on its own and is why, after a process that took years, we have come to this crucial moment. In times when the deterioration and destruction of the environment is taking place on a daily basis, all the countries have to join forces and protect our planet.
Time is running out. We cannot afford to wait any longer; not only is the ocean’s future at stake but also the future of all life that depends on it. This is why thousands of people around the world are urging the UN to “Act Now” to create Ocean Sanctuaries. This message is sailing through the Alboran Sea, which is among the international waters in need of protection onboard the ‘Esperanza’ (which means hope, in Spanish) to reflect the hope that thousands of us have that, in the next few days, we will achieve real progress to protect our ocean.
When I was a kid, I learned that the sea needed to be respected, that when you swim in the ocean, you must always look ahead and never turn your back on it. Today, more than ever, we must not turn our backs on the sea. The call is simple: the time for the UN to act is now.
Estefanía González is an oceans campaigner for Greenpeace Andino based in Chile.