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One Ocean Under Threat

The ocean provides 50% of our oxygen, controls climate from one pole to the other, and feeds billions of people every year. (Photo: R. Quevenco/IAEA)

"We say oceans, but it is in fact one ocean, interconnected. These highly important ecosystems are under threat because of decades of overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and unplanned coastal urban and industrial development," said David Osborn, Director of the IAEA Environmental Laboratories in Monaco at the end of the second and final day of the Scientific Forum on Nuclear Applications for a Sustainable Marine Environment during the IAEA 57th Annual General Conference in Vienna, Austria.

Considering that the ocean provides 50% of our oxygen, controls climate from one pole to the other, and feeds billions of people every year, taking care of the ocean isn't simply an altruistic act arising from a sense of shared environmental stewardship; taking care of the ocean means taking care of ourselves.

On the Scientific Forum's final day, scientists focussed on ocean pollutants that flow into the sea from the land, the resulting threats to shores and coastlines.

Summarizing the proceedings, Osborn said, "Issues addressed have ranged from radioactive waste products in the oil industry, to the use of neutron activation analysis and electron beam analysis to understand and address key pollutants in the marine environment. We have heard about how radionuclides help us understand ocean circulation and how radiotracers help us understand complex biological processes."

Director General Yukiya Amano, said despite the possibility of a bleak future for mankind if the stress place on the ocean continues, there is room for optimism because we understand the issue, and there are many countries and organisations around the world which are collaborating to find and implement workable solutions.

Amano said that in order to implement these solutions globally, governments need to take the issue seriously and place ocean stress factors, like ocean acidification, high on their policy agendas.

"All of the easy environmental problems have been solved. It's now the difficult problems that we have yet to face," said William Cooper, Director of the Urban Water Research Center, University of California.

To solve the problem created by human activities contaminating and stressing the ocean, "cross-disciplinary approaches are needed," said Osborn. "Those involved in nuclear science, the life sciences, economics, the social sciences and policy makers must cooperate to promote holistic ecosystem-based approaches to today's problems in the marine environment."

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