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What’s An Ocean With Tuna Worth?

What’s an ocean worth? The world economy can’t do without it. We use our oceans for oil drilling, to catch mackerel and tuna, or for a carefree week of sailing. For centuries these vast stretches of water seemed inexhaustible, but now it's clear that there are limits to their resilience.

Worldwide, billions of dollars worth of economic activity takes place in and around the oceans. Direct uses include oil extraction, fishing and tourism, but there are also a lot of indirect uses. The consequences of all these activities are becoming increasingly visible.

Species are being threatened with extinction, and pollution in coastal areas is increasing at an alarming rate. In the so-called dead zones off the southern coast of the United States, ocean life is no longer possible.

Price tag

This week government representatives, environmental organizations and economists meet in Singapore to talk about the economic value of the oceans and how they can be sustainably exploited. Everyone agrees that the oceans will continue to be exploited in the years ahead. This can only be done in a sustainable way if all parties work together. But the question is: how to achieve this in practice?

At the moment nobody can stick a price tag on an ocean. The most recent global analysis dates back to early 2005. It’s clear that in the coming years conflicts over the exploitation will increase. Disputes over fishing and oil exploration are just the beginning. Piracy is a growing problem. In that light, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is becoming increasingly important. It lays down rules for the use of natural resources and the prevention of environmental damage.

‘Dow Jones’

Meanwhile an international group of scientists, a kind of Dow Jones for the oceans, has been developed. The Ocean Health Index indicates the status of an ocean based on scientific data that’s as objective as possible. Everyone can promise to proceed “sustainably”, but the term ‘sustainable’ is too subjective. On the basis of ten categories, the ‘Ocean Dow Jones’ will give a transparent picture of the health of the oceans. So it will become clear to what extent drilling, fishing and sailing can be carried out in a sustainable way.