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Oceans have always been an important part of many cultures, and today we understand the oceans more than we ever have in any part of human history. The question now is, has this knowledge and understanding led us to conserve and protect this beauty and resource and its inextricable links to human lives?

Experts have come together to tell us that our historical use of seas and oceans have led to a crisis. They also tell us that we now know enough to press on with a perspective, sound and solid, for managing our high seas and oceans.

It is high time, after centuries of exploration and trade when sailors were regarded as explorers in dangerous waters tasked with discovering new lands and wealth, that we now take heed of a new breed of sailors with a new purpose Emarine scientists who have shed light on ocean life forms and their connections with each other and us. Although, in ages past, people knew little of oceans, which were cloaked mostly in mystery, adventure and intrigue, today we now seek to benefit from the science that maps our quest for understanding them.

Science has shown that the seas and oceans are comparable to the world’s richest rain forests Ewith more than 1 million known species of plants and animals and as many as 9 million species yet to be discovered. Deep-sea corals serve as feeding, breeding and spawning areas, and as sanctuary, for hundreds of thousands of species. Coastal and ocean fisheries provide the largest harvest of a wild food source on the planet.

We know that the ocean contains an amazing array of life at every depth, hosting valuable sources of natural products for pharmaceuticals, enzymes, cosmetics and other commercial products. Science also shows that the oceans are responsible for important life cycles that affect the land, climate and the air we breathe.

The health of the oceans and seas is a harbinger of things to come. Thanks to science, we can predict the impacts of potential climate change attributed to destructive fishing practices, coastal development and pollution. For instance, oceans have clued us in on the rising sea levels that threaten low-lying nations, particularly in the Pacific.

Scientific studies are but a small fraction of the necessary work that must be carried out to save our seas and oceans. In this regard, a new United Nations University report recommends using an “ecosystem approach” in managing our oceans and coastal areas, which, threatened by development, affect critical issues such as economics, health and security. This comprehensive and holistic approach involves understanding and anticipating ecological change, assessing the full range of consequences and developing appropriate management responses.

The long and arduous work of science by our modern-day explorers brings forth significant information that helps us understand how and why short-term economic and other benefits derived from exploiting forests, wetlands, oceans and other resources are significantly outweighed by the greater long-term damage to human livelihoods and health. They point out, for example, that healthy “ecosystem services” can mitigate the impacts of natural disasters, as seen in the most extreme effects of disasters such as landslides, floods and droughts felt around the world.

This week, scientists, policymakers and nongovernment organizations have gathered in New York for the Seventh United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea to discuss “ecosystem approaches and oceans.” Critics have judged such meetings as nothing more than hot air. But these processes provide a venue for exchanging scientific findings and views for analyzing complex problems and formulating concrete solutions.

To come up with the right solution, we must first fully understand the problem. Sound solutions come from sound assessments. Think tanks such as United Nations University play a critical role in providing invaluable information to help policymakers consider the right decisions in favor of sustainable development.

Our oceans, although vast, seem fragile when you come to understand the unprecedented pressures that have been brought to bear on them by human activities. They are also all we have. The oceans and all the life they contain have been feeling and responding to ecological stress and are now changing in ways that are alarming, threatening ocean habitats and the lives that depend on them, including our own.

We never really swim in the same ocean twice, and that could happen sooner than humanity ever expected.

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