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Protecting Our Oceans Together

According to UN Habitat, Durban is one of several African coastal cities that will be confronted with the adverse effects of rising sea levels. (Photo: iStockphoto)

"Together we have the power to protect the ocean". That is the motto of World Oceans Day 2013. Coupled with that vision is the certainty that our prosperity and development depend upon healthy oceans.

About 40 to 50 percent of the world's population live within 200 km of a coastline. That proximity is just one example of the oceans' importance in our lives. Global trade, energy, and food security are the most visible "services" the oceans provide daily. Yet, our survival depends on the ocean's "invisible" services like oxygen production (providing 50-80% of global oxygen supply), carbon sequestration (capturing 25% of man-made CO2 emissions), and climate regulation (transferring 50% of global heat).

Similar to a living being, the oceans perform and provide their services most efficiently when healthy. The IAEA in collaboration with other international partners seeks to help Member States monitor, evaluate, and find cost-effective, sustainable solutions to the challenges confronting the health of our oceans.

The United Nations and other international bodies have identified critical pressures facing the oceans, all of which are caused or exacerbated by human activities:

  • Among global climate change effects are rising sea levels and warming waters. Coupled with ocean acidification, these pressures are deteriorating physical and biological conditions in the oceans.
  • Marine pollution is another major source of pressure on the oceans. Land-based activities account for 80% of marine pollution whose volume continues to increase.
  • Over-extraction and the unsustainable exploitation of marine resources result in an ever more damaging effect on marine environments and marine life. This impact is particularly disruptive when it occurs in combination with the destruction of habitats that are essential to many marine services.
  • In addition to the loss of healthy habitats, the introduction of invasive species through human activities reduces the populations of native species and instigates destructive ecological change.

The IAEA's Environment Laboratories are contributing to international efforts to protect the oceans by developing and using a range of nuclear and isotopic techniques to create a more precise understanding of the ocean's degradation. Using radiotracers, IAEA scientists study biological processes to understand how marine organisms react to acidification and warming. Electron beams are used in breaking down pollutants, while isotopes are used to track their sources and dispersion.

Equally important to the research conducted is the role the IAEA plays in training researchers from developing countries. These scientists return to their home countries with new nuclear methods to help monitor these pressures. The precise knowledge derived from nuclear and isotopic techniques allows developing countries to make informed decisions to conserve the oceans and guide development to sustainably use ocean resources and services.

In September 2013, the IAEA will be hosting a Scientific Forum on our oceans, titled The Blue Planet - Nuclear Applications for a Sustainable Marine Environment. The Forum will bring together scientists, experts and policy makers from different fields to initiate dialogue and build new partnerships and cooperation to protect and preserve the ecological balance that is vital for the survival of the coastal regions and marine environment.

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