| South-East Asia's Environmental Future: The Search for Sustainability (1993) |
|Part III - Selected issues: Change and the environment|
|12. Coastal, inshore and marine problems|
Ever since Goldberg (1976) wrote his book, The Health of the Oceans, interest in the monitoring of the global marine environment has become more acute. The Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution (GESAMP), an interagency body sponsored by eight United Nations organizations (IMO, FAO, UNESCO, WMO, WHO, IAEA, UN and UNEP), has been entrusted with a periodic review of the condition of the oceans. Its most recent report is The State of the Marine Environment (GESAMP, 19913. The author was a member of the working group that prepared the report and will attempt to abstract the more important observations in introducing and placing in perspective the marine environmental problems of South-East Asia.
The report points out that man's 'fingerprint' is found everywhere in the oceans but that conditions vary widely. In contrast to statements (by some crusaders out to save the oceans) that the oceans are dying, the report indicates that the open seas are relatively clean, although chemical contaminants are detectable virtually everywhere and sea lanes are often characterized by oil slicks and litter.
The picture changes at the margins of the sea because it is here that the impacts of man's activities are most pronounced. Besides the in situ population growth in coastal areas, migration from the interior to the coast continues in many places; hence, there is increasing pressure to develop coastal human settlements which necessarily leads to the destruction of natural ecosystems including beaches, wetlands and coral reefs. The next most important factor is the impact of nutrients and sewage on the coastal zone, whether these are generated locally or transported from interior watersheds,
On a positive note, there appears to be a decreasing trend in the contamination of some northern temperate areas by chlorinated hydrocarbons due to stricter controls of their use. Unfortunately. the same cannot be said for tropical and subtropical areas.
To sum up the report, it is best to quote its conclusions thus:
[A]t the end of the 1980s. the major causes of immediate concern in the marine environment on a global basis are coastal development and the attendant destruction of habitats, eutrophication, microbial contamination of seafood and beaches, fouling of the seas by plastic litter, progressive build-up of' chlorinated hydrocarbons, especially in the tropics and the subtropics, and accumulation of tar on beaches. However, concerns may differ from region to region, reflecting local situations and priorities. Furthermore, throughout the world, public perception may still accord greater importance to other contaminants such as radionuclides, trace elements and oil. These were highlighted in the 1982 GESAMP Review and are considered again in the present report, but we now regard them as being of lesser concern.
While no areas of the ocean and none of its principal resources appear to be irrevocably damaged, and most are still unpolluted, while there are encouraging signs that in some areas marine contamination is decreasing, we are concerned that too little is being done to correct or anticipate situations that call for action. that not enough consideration is being given to the consequences for the oceans of coastal development, and that activities on land continue with little regard to their effects in coastal waters. We fear. especially in view of the continuing growth of human populations, that the marine environment could deteriorate significantly in the next decade unless strong, co-ordinated national and international action is taken now. At the national level in particular, the concerted application of measures to reduce wastes and to conserve raw materials will be essential. The efforts will be great and costs high, but nothing less will ensure the continued health of the sea and the maintenance of its resources.
The report is not entirely silent on the current 'buzz' words in ecology or environmental protection. It takes cognizance of global climatic change, the possible sea-level rise that may result from global warming due to increases in greenhouse gases, and the potential impact of the reduction of stratospheric Ozone. Since these could not be fully assessed by the working group charged with the preparation of the report, they were not addressed in any detail but merely flagged as additional issues that will need further treatment elsewhere.