The coming months are critical if we are going to stop the damaging free-for-all that is the current status quo and save the world’s oceans for our common future. Vanessa Baird examines the prospects.
There’s a cartoon that oceanographer Lisa Levin uses in her lectures. It shows a group of women having coffee. One is saying: ‘I don’t know why I don’t care about the bottom of the ocean, but I don’t.’ It’s from The New Yorker, dated 1983, and it’s safe to say it probably reflected the feeling of the vast majority of people at the time.
Whatever has happened in the intervening decades, that, at least, may have changed. It’s so much easier today to feel for the seas.
We now know that the vast, once seemingly empty, body of blue is teeming with precious and precarious life. And we know much more about the human role in endangering so many of its creatures. A turtle, with a plastic straw stuck poignantly in its nostril. A baby whale, clutching to its ailing mother. A dolphin expiring from exhaustion, tangled in a fishing net.
We know the sheer colour and wondrous beauty of sea life. Bioluminescent fish that dazzle in the dark deep, where no light penetrates except the magical flashes that sea creatures themselves create. Awesome underwater mountains and kelp forests that seem like the stuff of rich fantasy.
Such images have been brought into the homes of millions by the Blue Planet television series, narrated by David Attenborough, providing us with an iconography of marine conservation that commands an almost sacred potency. Earlier this year, the naturalist and filmmaker achieved rock-star status, appearing, at the age of 93, at this year’s Glastonbury festival in the west of England.
But, more important, he has helped turn a vast anonymous expanse into something people care about, feel connected to, might even want to save.
Law of the Sea
Who owns the sea, that body of water that covers two-thirds of the planet? Can you really draw lines on water, circumscribe it with laws?
The idea of an international law of the sea has a long history. In 1609 Dutch jurist Hugo Grotius published a treatise called ‘The Freedom of the Seas or the Right which belongs to the Dutch to take part in the East Indian Trade’.