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Climate conference urges world to protect oceans

MANADO, Indonesia – Rising sea levels, warming waters and spiraling acidity caused by global warming are threatening the world’s oceans and the communities they support, governments warned Thursday, as they sought to include protection for the seas in a new U.N. climate treaty.

Not only marine ecosystems, but the lives of tens of millions of people could be affected as they are forced to leave inundated coastal communities and find new jobs, they said.

“We must come to the rescue of the oceans,” Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said at the opening of high-level government talks at the World Ocean’s Conference in the northern city of Manado.

“We must preserve them as our legacy for our future generations so that they may live free from the shackles of poverty,” he said.

Scientists have long warned that higher temperatures will melt polar ice and cause sea levels to rise, wiping out island communities and destroying coastal ecosystems. Rising emissions of carbon dioxide are also making oceans increasingly acidic, eroding sea shells, bleaching coral and killing other marine life.

But many questions remain about oceans — which can also play an important part in absorbing carbon — partly because the technology to study them is relatively new.

Participants at Thursday’s meeting want negotiators at U.N. climate change talks, scheduled to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, this December, to discuss the world’s waters including concerns about the affect of greenhouse gas emissions on oceans when replacing the Kyoto Protocol in 2012.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in recorded remarks Thursday that the world must “do more to protect our oceans and preserve the long-term health of our planet and its people,” noting that the two are closely linked.

The effects of climate change, she said, “can be seen not only in melting glaciers and dying coral reefs, but also in damaged homes, falling wages, rising poverty, diminished opportunities.”

The two-day meeting in Manado, which brings together ministers and high-level officials from more than 80 countries, was preceded by a series of symposiums on science, technology and policy makers. It wraps up Friday.

A similar gathering will be held next week in Washington, D.C., with the focus on the need for improved marine conservation.

“The fact that less than 1 percent of the world’s oceans are covered by marine protected areas is a catastrophe waiting to happen,” Dan Laffoley of the International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a statement.

“Just because these places are under water and not highly visible does not mean they should be ignored,” he said. “It’s time to expand marine protected areas and save our oceans from threats like overfishing and climate change.”

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