Why should everyone care about the ocean, even people who don’t live near the coast?

Our lives depend on the ocean – it offers us so much. Half of Earth’s oxygen is generated by the ocean. It moderates the temperature, even inland. The ocean takes up 70 percent of the surface of Earth. (I tell my students, if you mess up 70 percent of your exams, you’re not going anywhere!) Then there’s the fish. Trade makes it possible for everyone on the planet to benefit from the amazing food, protein and micronutrients we get from the ocean. So the ocean really is important for everyone.

What are some of the most pressing issues?

Three come to mind. The first is the amount of fish we’re taking out of the ocean. We’re fishing down the marine food web – taking the biggest fish, then the next biggest, then the next. We have an overfishing problem. We also have climate change, which is warming the oceans and causing acidification and deoxygenation. The Pacific is known as a hotspot of deoxygenation: the oxygen content is already low, and if it continues to decline, it could reduce biodiversity and have major impacts on ocean ecosystems. Then we have the pollution problem: plastic and other debris going into the ocean.

How does your work combat these global problems?

By using economics, integrated with other disciplines, to find solutions and insights for the world to better manage the ocean and its resources sustainably; not only for us, but for future generations. Specifically, I look at the high seas. The ocean is split into two areas: country waters, the area within 200 nautical miles of the coast, and the high seas, which is the rest. The high seas make up two-thirds of the surface of the ocean – that’s half the Earth’s surface.

Read more on A deep dive: Dr. Sumaila on sustainable ocean management in global partnership via UBC.

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