On World Oceans Day, Protect All Oceans – and All Life – by Protecting the Arctic

The oceans connect us and give us life. They cover over 72% of our world’s surface. They produce 70% of the oxygen we breathe—more than all the rainforests combined. They are a key food provider, being the top source of protein for over a billion people. And the places where they meet the land are home for the majority of people on Earth.

All life on this planet began in the oceans. Reminding us where we came from, our physical bodies are more than 50% water. Our dependence on water is total. But today, the oceans are in grave trouble. Their distress increases every moment. We may choose to look the other way, but we remain inescapably connected with them. Their demise is our very own.

Pollution, ship noise and overfishing have devastated marine life. The magnificent whales, whose very presence benefits our world’s ecosystems through the whale pump effect, are endangered. The ocean’s currents are being shifted by runoff from ice that was never meant to thaw. As ocean water changes, our food sources move, as do our critical weather patterns. The rains we expect may not come, or come in floods. The sunshine we expect may no longer be enjoyable but scorching and dangerous. As such, even while our population increases, scientists expect food crop yields to diminish in the coming years.

For millions of years, polar ice has stabilized the planet’s weather so that we have the food and water we need to survive. But it is melting fast. There is 75% less Arctic sea ice in the summer than there was just 50 years ago. Parts of the Arctic Ocean are now 4C hotter than they should be. Scientists say the Arctic is in a “death spiral”. The more its ice melts, the warmer our world gets. And the warmer our world gets, the more the ice melts. This is an underreported planetary emergency. And it has ramifications for all life on Earth, including us. We no longer have the luxury to think of ourselves as separate from any aspect of Nature or any part of the world. People far from the Arctic Ocean, who have done nothing to support its melt, will see their homes swallowed up by the sea and their fields unable to grow food. The reality of our shared situation is a call to open our minds and hearts and act now for ourselves, and the good of all.

Another sobering reminder of our need to act is the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of establishing ten per cent of the world’s oceans as marine protected areas by 2020. To date, the world’s political will has not catalyzed around even this very modest goal. With just two years to go, we sit at about three per cent. Yet strong scientific consensus states the need to protect thirty per cent. Award-winning biologist Edward O. Wilson contends we must go much further, and dedicate fully half the Earth to conservation areas in order to stop mass extinction. There is no longer time for anything but ambitious and immediate action to protect life on Earth for generations to come.

The problem is huge. But there is an immediate response that protects the Arctic Ocean. MAPS, the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary, declares the entire Arctic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle an international peace park, free from exploitation of all kinds, in perpetuity. It stops all activity in the Arctic Ocean that harms the melting polar ice, and ensures the regeneration of this essential ecosystem. By taking Arctic seabed oil off the table, it compels a global shift to renewables. MAPS alone will almost double the current amount of marine protected areas in the world. And it places that conservation where it is most urgently needed for the sake of life on Earth. In addition, MAPS compels the leadership of the entire world to place our collective long-term good ahead of short-term individual gain. There is no other initiative that so boldly and comprehensively responds to so many issues facing our world today.

MAPS has the endorsement of global luminaries. Dr Jane Goodall says, “The oceans are not only rich in biodiversity, but also play a major role in regulating temperatures: we continue harming and polluting them at our peril. It is hugely important to establish the proposed Sanctuary for preserving the unique Arctic flora and fauna and thus helping to slow down climate change at this critical time.”

The renowned oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle says, “The next ten years is likely to be the most important time in the next 10,000 years. We have options that we are going to lose within ten years unless we take action now. Every day options close, and this is particularly true in the Arctic. The Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary is an idea whose time has come, and I would like to express my deepest gratitude to the people behind these efforts.”

The path to MAPS is clear. The Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary Treaty is an addendum to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that enters into force with the signatures of 99 UN member nations. Samoa has already signed the Treaty and several other nations are finalizing plans to sign now. MAPS is more than possible. Now it needs people like you and me to demand it of our world leaders.

World Oceans Day is June 8. This year, please take a moment for the Arctic, for its ocean literally holds the fate of the planet. Sign and share the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary petition at Parvati.org and write to your head of government to ask them to sign the MAPS Treaty. When we protect the Arctic Ocean, we are protecting every ocean on Earth and every being that depends on them—including ourselves.

Parvati Devi is an award-winning Canadian musician, yogini, activist and author who is the founder of Parvati.org, working to establish the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary for the sake of all life on Earth.