12 Brief Lessons
About the Ocean and the World


Nearly half the Earth is covered by areas of the ocean that lie beyond national jurisdiction. They are among the least protected and responsibly managed areas of the planet. Considering the importance of the ocean for our food supply, for preventing climate change, and for biodiversity, this is irresponsible. Something has to change—and soon.

 – 1 –

The ocean is the source of life and livelihood for a growing global population. 2.9 billion people around the world obtain 20 percent of their protein needs from fish. The Earth’s climate is strongly influenced by the interaction between the atmosphere and ocean. Without the ocean we would not survive.

 – 2 –

The ocean is under great stress due to a number of factors. The situation results not from any single problem but rather from a whole confluence of troubling issues. We have an ocean crisis!

 – 3 –

The ocean covers 71 percent of the globe. The seas suffer because of climate change. Acidification, warming, and rising sea levels are already altering habitats. The global sea level has risen 20 centimeters in the last hundred years. That figure could reach one meter by the end of the century.

 – 4 –

We take more than the ocean can give. Simply put, we are overexploiting the ocean. One example: overfishing. 90 percent of the global fish population is maximally exploited or has already been overfished. The resulting decline in biodiversity is particularly troubling.

 – 5 –

We use the ocean as a garbage dump. The ocean accepts a lot—more than it can handle: greenhouse gases, manure and fertilizer, plastic, oil pollution, and much more. The result: the destruction of marine ecosystems.

 – 6 –

Our connection to the ocean is often invisible. What we eat, what we use to brush our teeth, where we travel, the clothing we wear—it all has an effect on the ocean.

 – 7 –

Yet the industrialization of the ocean is just beginning! The most significant changes are still ahead of us. The demand for natural resources and energy from the deep sea is great and will only grow in the future.

 – 8 –

Many of the secrets of the deep sea have yet to be discovered or explored. Deep-sea mining may destroy whole ecosystems before we even realize they exist.

 – 9 –

Here could be enough for all. A sustainable and just approach to dealing with the ocean’s natural resources is possible. The necessary pre-conditions are: conscientious consumption, fair distribution, and intelligent fisheries management.

 – 10 –

If we continue doing what we’re doing now, many people will lose their livelihoods. The poorest are the most strongly affected. Migration is often the last resort.

 – 11 –

The ocean surrounds the world. But there is no supreme international authority that is truly responsible for the protection of the entire ocean. The result is fragmented jurisdictions, inadequate laws, and loopholes.

 – 12 –

Yet there is still movement in the right direction. The ocean crisis is coming into the spotlight. People around the world are starting to change their behavior and their consumption. The community of nations is putting itself on the path to realizing ocean protection together with the Ocean Conference in New York in 2017.

Heinrich Böll Foundation Schleswig-Holstein
Heinrich Böll Foundation
The Future Ocean