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Canadian government celebrates launch of UN's Decade of Oceans Science for Sustainable Development. Image: Kelly Churchman/Pexels
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United Nations launched decade of ocean science for sustainable development — Canadians hopeful for environmental improvements

In March, the United Nations (UN) launched the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021–2030 plan to improve global ocean health. The UN’s plan involves solutions for sustainable ocean development to benefit future generations. 

Days prior to the launch, the Canadian federal government hosted a virtual event to celebrate this plan.

At the event, Bernadette Jordan, Minister of Fisheries, Oceans (DFO) and the Canadian Coast Guard explained the focus of the initiative.

“The Ocean Decade is an opportunity for marine nations to work together to turn the tide on ocean health by using science to tackle the many challenges facing our marine environment,” said Jordan.  

Given that Canada has the longest coastline in the world, the protection of Canada’s oceans is a difficult task. 

A DFO report indicates that the Arctic Ocean’s temperature has increased by 2 C since 2000. This temperature change decreases the amount of ice in the ocean which then impacts the migration patterns of sea animals. 

According to the same report, Canada’s ocean acidity levels are also on the rise. This is linked to the carbon dioxide levels in the air, which negatively impact oxygen levels, and make oceans inhospitable for marine animals. 

The UN’s plan is to help remedy some of these issues and build a global culture that values the ocean’s health.

In 10 years, the UN hopes the global community removes pollution sources, restores marine ecosystems, and works together to generate knowledge about the changing ocean. 

In accordance with this plan, Jordan said the federal government will, “foster international cooperation, share scientific research and create more innovative technologies, [so that] the world will be better positioned to grow its blue economies. Only by working together can we turn the world’s Sustainable Development Goals into reality by 2030.” 

“The problems facing our oceans are global and therefore our solutions must be as well,” said Jordan.  

In particular, Canada’s efforts will turn to the advice and knowledge of various community groups across the country. 

 “Canada’s conservation efforts continue to be grounded in the best available science, Indigenous traditional and local knowledge, and local perspectives across Canada,” said Victoria Waizmann, media relations officer at the DFO.

“These [Ocean Decade] outcomes aim to help inform ocean policies and decisions to conserve our ocean and support sustainable development,” she added.

The aim is to improve the relationship that Canadians have with the ocean. To accomplish this culture shift, the government will promote ocean literacy amongst diverse groups all while highlighting Indigenous peoples’ cultural relationship with the oceans. 

In the spirit of the UN’s plan, Waizmann said the federal government believes it is important to educate society on this issue.

“Canada actively participates in global efforts to share knowledge, information, data, technologies, and expertise through arrangements with individual countries, organizations, and other types of institutions around the world.”

When asked how Canadians can help improve ocean health, Waizmann said “it’s important to remember that even if you don’t live by the ocean, your actions can still have a meaningful impact.”

“Canadians can help improve the health of our oceans by taking simple steps to reduce their environmental footprint, for example reducing their use of single-use plastics, recycling, and choosing sustainable products and energy sources whenever possible,” she continued. 

The use of plastics is directly harmful to the oceans. 

A 2016 Canadian literature review says plastic particles are prevalent in waters which border large coastal cities. But, they are also prevalent in remote regions like the Arctic, because plastics are swept by the wind and, over time, are pushed into the Arctic ocean. 

Also, according to a 2014 Irish study, 94 percent of Northeast Atlantic Ocean water samples contain plastic particles. This means that, while naked to the human eye, plastic sediments, or microplastics, exist in at least 12,700km of the Atlantic. 

But the majority of these microplastics are not from single-use plastics. 

In fact, according to a National Geographic article, only eight per cent of the total tonnage of plastic in the waters is made up of disposable plastics. 

As it turns out, most of it is actually abandoned fishing gear, not disposable plastics like bottles or straws. Fishing nets account for 46 per cent, and the majority of the 54% left composed of other fishing industry gear like ropes, oyster spacers, eel traps, crates and baskets.

Moving forward, the federal government will host a workshop from May 10 to 14 during which participants can reflect on the unique strengths that Canadians contribute to the Ocean Decade. 

More information about the upcoming public workshop is found on UN Ocean Decade webpage.