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Status of life in Oceans: Does life underwater provide sufficient protection

It is a sad situation in the seas that, from where life arose and sustains, should now be in danger by the activities of another form of that life. But though the sea has changed in a sinister way, it will anyway continue to exist: the threat is rather to human life. Oceans are perhaps the secret of how life began on earth and then a paradigm shift to land happened. It is because of the careless acts of humans that oceans are suffering.

Why has maritime wildlife protection become the need of the hour? The large scale coastal pollution, overfishing, habitat destruction, acidification, etc are a grim reality of the waters. The life of approximately 1000 marine habitat is severely affected because of pollution and over 100 million animals lose their lives in the water. With 71% of the total land area being water, today there are more than 500 dead zones declared where marine life cannot exist.

Who are the stakeholders involved in trafficking?

The stakeholders involved in marine wildlife trafficking are the primary reason why it has become rife. People must be made aware of how the illegal marine wildlife trading market is flourishing and has successfully become a global menace. Marine wildlife trafficking has been happening in countries that have strict laws and punishments. Who are these stakeholders who carry out illegal trading? The illegal global trade of eel smuggling is 2.5 billion a year. People like Gilbert Khoo who illegally trade European eel and other marine animals are the primary stakeholders in marine destruction.

But on the flip side of the coin, there are also people who are positive stakeholders. But it is important to bring them on the same page. This is so because a study based on a survey shows that there is a lack of awareness of endangered species. Countries must follow the footsteps of the Mombasa port stakeholders who have taken active steps to tackle illegal wildlife trade. From hosting workshops to forming associations and then drafting a zero-tolerance policy, they have successfully tackled an impending menace. It is about time that incidents like Mombasa port take over the number of Gilbert Khoo for the survival of marine life.

Demand for goods

It is important to understand that a market cannot sustain unless there is a demand from the consumer. Any market will only sustain and flourish because of the demand from its consumers. At this point it is necessary to question, why does illegal trading take place? Primarily because some of us still demand marine flora and fauna in some way or the other. The finger must be pointed to the consumers who still demand such goods!

Along with the enforcement of laws, it is important that we make effective strategies to influence consumers. There is a demand for sea turtles, shark fins, totoaba fish in Mexico, commercial whaling in Japan and Iceland, and manta gills have risen dramatically over the last decade. The gills can sell for up to $500 per kilogram are among a few common demands Once there is a fall in consumer demand in the market, the graph of illegal trafficking will fall too!

Criminalization of trafficking

The laws on wildlife trafficking vary from region to region. Depending on the jurisdiction, it attracts different penalties for violations of laws relating to the environment, forests, wildlife, fisheries, endangered species, or protected areas and further it may give rise to administrative, civil or criminal liability. Owing to the proliferation of regional illegal wildlife trade, the global community now considers the illegal import of endangered species a grave matter of concern.

It would be correct to mention that although criminalization is the harshest form of regulations because it involves penalties and punishments, it has become the need of the hour. Different countries have different statues that help reduce the number of criminal offences against marine wildlife. For example, the USA has the Marine Mammal Protection Act, 1972 and China under Article 341 of the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China. The ‘ivory queen’ of Tanzania is a landmark case where a Chinese businesswoman under the nickname ‘Ivory queen’ used her knowledge of Tanzanian culture to carry out one of Africa’s biggest ivory trafficking rings. As a result, she was sentenced to 15 years of imprisonment.

Landmark judgments
  • Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan)[1]
    In 2010 proceedings were initiated by Australia against Japan at the International Court of Justice. It was alleged that Japan in breach of its obligations as a signatory to the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling has continued an extensive whaling program. ICJ ruled that it was not legal and must end.
     
  • Ocean Mammal Institute v. Gates[2]
    The Navy was sued over the use of sonar. It was feared that the sonar would kill whales and other marine life. This case dealt with the required production of documents stating that the defendant was privileged. The Court ordered that documents be handed over to the plaintiffs because the documents were not in fact privileged. And the use of sonar must be stopped.

    Important legislations
    It is the law of the sea that has been of prime importance to international law in the 21st century. Though there has been an inherent tension between coastal states and maritime states there was no major convention until most recently.
     
  • The Stockholm Conference 1972
    If one was to identify a single event that brought forward the environmental awareness in international law it would clearly be the Stockholm Conference on Human Environment in 1972. It was proclaimed in the Conference that man is both creature and moulder of the environment which gives him physical sustenance and offers him opportunities for intellectual, moral and spiritual growth.

    It also held that developing countries that have a maximum contribution to various environmental problems; their priority must be to safeguard and improve the environment. Industrialized countries should proactively make an effort to reduce the gap between themselves and the developing countries. Defending and improving the environment for future generations must be an imperative goal.

    The conference laid down 26 principles called the Stockholm declarations. The most significant achievements of the Stockholm Conference were the establishment of the United Nations Environment Programme, a subsidiary organ of the UN. The Stockholm Conference was a significant starting point but it remained a little more than a wish list. Shortly after negotiations began on another major document in international law that would give greater legal effect to both of these substantial concerns.
     
  • UN Convention on the Law of Sea 1982
    Until 20th-century law of the sea is said to have been governed by customs. An international conference was held in 1958, the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea, codified much of the existing customs into four conventions the Convention on the Territorial Sea and the Contiguous Zone, the Convention on the High Seas, the Convention on Fishing and Conservation of the Living Resources of the High Seas, and the Convention on the Continental Shelf. The particular contribution of UNCLOS is that is not only fixed the breadth of the territorial sea at a maximum of 12 nautical miles but it also designated other segments of the ocean where the interests of coastal states are balanced with the needs of maritime states.

Suggestions for a sustainable ocean
Laws, regulations, awareness is all one side of the coin, and on the flip side, our minor lifestyle changes can significantly contribute to a sustainable and healthy ocean.
  1. To reduce ocean acidification, efforts must be made to reduce our carbon footprint.
  2. To prevent more areas like the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’ use of plastics and disposables must be avoided/limited.
  3. Raising awareness regarding marine wildlife trafficking and reduction of the market demand for goods that are sold illegally.
  4. Support organization’s and volunteer for cleanup drives.
  5. Educate ourselves and then our community about the importance of healthy oceans and marine life. Support organizations and volunteer for cleanup drives.

Conclusion

Mahatma Gandhi rightly said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” At the end of the day, all governments and courts bow down to public pressure. Laws can fail but not individual efforts. After all, it is the drops of water that fill the ocean. Sincere individual contributions will surely have a great overall impact on the well being of ocean life.

We must understand that life is a cycle, if there are no blue oceans there will not be any green fields. By following simple measures like rational use of resources and by being aware of our surroundings, we can be fairly responsible towards our environment.

End-Notes:
  1. ICJG 471 (ICJ 2014)
  2. 2008 WL 2185180 (D.Hawai'i)

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