Decades ago, the famous singing duo Nina and Frederik wrote an immortal song relating to the ocean. It goes like this, “Listen to the ocean, echoes of a million sea shells, forever it’s in motion, moving to a rhythmic, unwritten music that’s played eternally”.
Words such as these revive memories of a beautiful ocean, especially for islands like Sri Lanka, as the United Nations’ today marks World Oceans Day, amid a warning by the General Assembly President, that decades of overuse and a surge in single-use plastics has led to a global environmental catastrophe. In a global campaign headlined, “Play it out”, the General Assembly chief says that today 13,000,000 tonnes of plastic leaks into the ocean. Among other damage, this disaster kills about 100,000 marine species annually. While most plastics are expected to remain intact for decades or centuries after use, those that do erode end up as micro-plastics. They are consumed by fish and other marine wildlife, quickly making their way into the global food chain whereby we eat a little poison everyday and fall sick more often.
From plastic straws to plastic bags, we all need to be at the frontline of efforts to Beat Plastic Pollution. The campaign is coordinated By the UN Office of Legal Affairs, the Division for Ocean Affairs, the Law of the Sea and this year’s finalists of the UN World Ocean Day Photo Competition.
According to the UN, we celebrate World Oceans Day to remind people of the major role the oceans p;ay in everyday life. They are the lungs of our planet, providing most of the oxygen we breathe. The purpose of the Day is to inform the people of the impact of human actions on the ocean, develop a worldwide movement of citizens for the ocean, mobilize and unite the world’s population on a project for the sustainable management of the world’s oceans. The oceans are a major source of food and medicines and a critical part of the biosphere. In the end, it is a day to celebrate together the beauty, the wealth and the promise of the ocean.
The 2019 theme is Gender and the Ocean. According to the UN, we have an opportunity to explore the gender dimension of humankind’s relationship with the ocean, if examples are needed we have the powerful case of the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg who is giving leadership to the world campaign against global warming and climate change, including ocean pollution. As stated in the our June 5 World Environment Day editorial, we need to make the world greta again instead of United States President Donald Trump’s self-centred move to make America great again by giving that powerful country first place in important dimensions ranging from military force to trade.
The UN says, this year we need to build greater ocean and gender literacy and to discover possible ways to promote gender equality in ocean-related activities such as marine scientific research, fisheries, labour at sea, migration by sea and human trafficking, policy-making and management.
The importance of gender equality -- in particular for the effective conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources -- is increasingly recognized. However, there is little data and research on these issues and a concerted action towards gender equality. The empowerment of women and girls is still needed in ocean-related sectors to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 5.
The UN is hosting a conference in celebration of World Oceans Day. Storytellers and speakers from around the world will join to share perspectives to build greater ocean and gender literacy and discover possible ways to promote gender equality in ocean-related activities.
In Sri Lanka also, ocean pollution has reached dangerous levels. We were at one time seen as a paradise isle or the pearl of the Indian Ocean. But it appears to be a case of casting pearls before swine with our once attractive beaches being so polluted that they seem to be more like garbage dumps. Women and girls are known to be more resourceful, committed and creative in many areas and as the UN has said, we need to draw more of them to the frontline of the battle against the ocean pollution and the destruction of hundreds of marine species.