Science Envoy for Ocean gives talk at NMMU

BY JESICA SLABBERT - JULY 20, 2016

United States Science Envoy for the Ocean, Dr Jane Lubchenco spoke at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) on Tuesday about the state of our oceans and the multiple threats and challenges facing our waters.

These threats require international collaboration to ensure the ocean and its resources are prevented from enduring further damage.

“We have some huge global challenges facing us, the oceans are very much a part of those global challenges and we need all the information we can, we need all the discussion we can to move ahead in tackling some of these great challenges,” she said

Dr Lubchenco is the first ever Science Envoy for the Ocean appointed by US President Barak Obama. She is an expert in marine ecology, environmental sciences, and climate change. She has been recognised as an innovative and gifted educator by undergraduate and graduate students and her courses emphasise the importance of scientists engaging with society.

“The US and South Africa have wonderful opportunities because we are both maritime nations, we both have longstanding, sophisticated science and we have a common interest in working together using science to tackle some local as well as global programmes,”

Her main concern for utilising the ocean and its benefits were if they could find a way to use the ocean, without using it up.

“Healthy ocean ecosystems provide a wealth of benefits. Many of those benefits are being eroded because of a variety of activities that are unintentionally degrading and depleting oceans at the global scale. Overfishing at the global scale, habitat loss, pollution; all of those together are resulting in this depletion and disruption of ocean ecosystems,” she said

She focused on two main solutions on how to utilise the ocean which were fisheries and marine reserves. She spoke about how to properly operate them on a human and management level in order to not deplete the ocean and force fisheries to shut down in the future.

“We are learning to fish smarter, not harder. Using good science and using different management techniques to incentivise fishermen, to reward fishermen to think long term instead of forcing them to think just short term because that’s the way the fishery is managed,” she said

Her solution of marine protected areas focused on areas that no extracted activities or destructive activities would be allowed which would help in the recovery of the damage caused by overfishing and protect biodiversity.

“When an area is fully protected things happen inside, sometimes very quickly. Things get more abundant, more diverse, and a lot bigger; some of that bounty spills out to the outside and can be fished,” she said

While her solutions seemed simple enough, Lubchenco admitted that these changes would take time and were not a quick fix.

“It is not easy, but it is possible and worth doing. Using science and using rights-based approaches that change incentives, having this transition to get you from a bad place over the economic challenges of the reforms to a place where the fishery has recovered and then you can have the economic benefits,” she said

She hopes that these solutions can help recover the bounty to be used by the people.