Our current systems are inadequate to address the growing risks faced by oceans, such as overfishing, loss of coastal protection and collapsing coral reef ecosystems. At the same time new investment opportunities are flourishing, such as offshore oil and gas, expanding shipping fleets, growing tourism, and undersea mining, as highlighted by the British Prime Minister earlier this year.

At a time when the public sector is coming under scrutiny in many parts of the world for stymieing economic competitiveness, I would argue that only by raising the profile of ocean issues in national agendas and creating a new Ministry of Ocean Affairs do we have a chance of creating the governance structures necessary to protect this vast and essential asset.

This would solve a number of problems. First of all coordination: implementing a comprehensive strategy involving departments and agencies as diverse as fishery protection units, coastguards, tourism authorities, port authorities and research agencies requires a governing body with serious clout – up there with health, finance or education.

Such a ministry would also serve as a centre of excellence for engaging, regulating and enforcing agreements with the private sector, which tends to lead most ocean activities. Lastly, it would be better equipped to influence governance issues beyond national jurisdictions. This is important, for there are many different jurisdictions. As South African Minister of Planning, Trevor Manuel, said in a recent debate at the World Economic Forum, it is an odd situation where the seabed is regulated by the UN’s International Seabed Authority, but the body of water and wildlife above the seabed is less clearly regulated. 

Of course, governance structures must also be reviewed at the international level. For example, are regional fishery organizations the right structures for ocean governance or should we be considering regional or even international ocean management organizations? 

All these goals are achievable, and some countries are already setting an example of best practice, such as the Scottish government, which created Marine Scotland to provide integrated management of all its ocean-related activities. 

Fixing the oceans will not be easy and it will certainly not be quick, which is all the more reason why governments must act with haste to create a single point of accountability before it is too late. In the words of Jules Verne: “We may brave human laws, but we cannot resist natural ones”.

For an interactive trip to the future of our oceans click on the image below:



Author: Nishan Degnarain is Member, Monetary Policy Committee, Mauritius Government. He is also a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Oceans as well as a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum.

Image: A coral on a reef spawns off the coast of southern Taiwan. REUTERS/Tsai Yung-chun.