In 2000, the United Nations proclaimed May 22 to be the International Day for Biological Diversity, a global initiative meant to increase our understanding and awareness of biodiversity issues while commemorating the adoption of the Final Act of the 1992 Nairobi Convention on Biological Diversity. This year’s focus is on marine diversity; efforts will draw attention to the health of our planet’s oceans.
To say that ocean’s play an important role in Earth’s biosphere is an understatement. The oceans occupy more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, 95% of the biosphere, host 32 of the 34 known phyla and contain somewhere between 500,000 and 10 million marine species with new species continuously being discovered, particularly in the deep sea. The ten- year global Census of Marine Life documented biodiversity hotspots and patterns, and the astonishing ability of marine life to adapt to challenging environments.
Life in our seas produces half of the oxygen that we breathe, provides valuable protein and moderates global climate change. Oceans also support numerous industries and economic opportunities, such as, shipping, tourism, oil/gas extraction and wave and tidal energy.
Many countries, including Canada, recognize that our oceans face unprecedented natural and human-induced threats, including land-based pollution and eutrophication (excess nutrients leading to degradation of water and habitat quality); overfishing; alterations of physical habitats; invasions of non-indigenous species; and global climate change, including melting sea ice.
Several national research programs and strategic university/government partnerships in Canada focus on marine biodiversity and ocean health, among them the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s Canadian Healthy Oceans Network (CHONe). These networks are building on technical advancements in ocean sciences, such as deep-sea observatories, remotely operated vehicles, novel genetic and molecular techniques for species and vector identification and early detection and rapid response to invasive aquatic species, along with new modeling tools to support Canada’s shift towards oceans ecosystem based management and its commitment to building networks of marine protected areas.
The road ahead for marine and coastal areas lies in more effective implementation of integrated marine and coastal area management systems that use scientific knowledge of marine biodiversity and the functioning of ocean ecosystems. This strategy includes creation of marine and coastal protected areas to promote the recovery of biodiversity and fisheries resources, and controlling land-based sources of pollution. Nonetheless, a recent report by the Royal Society of Canada’s Expert Panel on Canada’s Marine Biodiversity identified a pressing need for action on well- established best practices and emerging knowledge. Canada still has significant work to do in order to meet its commitments, including reaching its target of establishing 10% of its oceans as marine protected areas. Tight budgets further emphasize the importance of maximizing the knowledge Canada’s oceans related research networks contribute to policies focused on healthy and sustainable ocean systems and to support future research.
Canada is an ocean nation: At more than 200,000 km in length, Canada’s shoreline is the longest in the world. Our territorial oceans cover some seven million square kilometers, seven-tenths the size of our landmass. To meet our national and international commitments to sustain marine biodiversity, Canada needs to understand both the vulnerability and resilience of the living sea, and to make ocean management and protection a policy priority. Making healthy oceans a policy priority and improving protection of marine biodiversity will help Canada’s marine ecosystems adapt to the challenges posed by climate change and other human activities