2017 was a bit of a rough year for the planet. Headlines ran amok, trumpeting news of widespread conflict and set-backs. Before casting off 2017 as a bad dream, let’s take a moment to reflect on this year’s numerous, unrecognized environmental triumphs. Big and small, ocean conservation in many ways took a distinctive step forward.
From new international agreements to marine mammal protections, 2017 has laid the groundwork for a new phase of marine conservation. Let’s make 2018 the #YearoftheOcean!
Taking a lead in animal rights, Mexico City ended all marine mammal captivity. The law, which passed with unanimous support on August 1st, bans the use of dolphins, orcas, and other marine mammals in scientific experiments, entertainment shows, and therapy sessions. Existing facilities were given six months to transfer animals to designated sea pens or sanctuaries, where the animals will not be forced to perform or interact with the public. The capital city’s new legislation sends a strong message to the rest of Mexico and Latin America about an increasingly controversial issue.
As waters warm and sea ice melts, the Arctic Ocean is becoming more accessible to a variety of human activities. In anticipation of the introduction of commercial fishing to the region, the world’s major fishing nations met to discuss future management. The meeting ended with all nations – Canada, Russia, China, the U.S., the EU, Japan, Denmark, Iceland, and South Korea – agreeing on a 16 year Arctic moratorium. David Balton, U.S. ambassador for oceans and fisheries, noted, “This is one of the rare times when a group of governments actually solved a problem before it happened.” In the meantime, research is being conducted into the existing Arctic ecosystems, of which information is currently limited.
By the end of this year, India will be building its first marine mammal museum, located in Mumbai. As an extension of the Coastal and Marine Biodiversity Centre, the new museum will have on display the skeletal remains of four endangered species: a Bryde’s whale, sperm whale, Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins, and finless porpoises. The creation of the museum comes at a time when an unprecedented number of marine mammal carcasses had washed ashore along the Maharashtra and Mumbai coast. Since marine mammals are consistently the least studied animals, India’s investment in a specialized, educational museum marks a distinct step forward.
Over the past few years, the subject of ocean conservation has accrued an unprecedented spotlight across the globe. From the reinforcement of wildlife trafficking laws to the expansion of ocean sanctuaries, international bodies are finally devoting time and resources to the preservation of marine ecosystems. Capitalizing on this momentum, the United Nations hosted the Ocean Conference in June. As the first ocean-centric summit of its kind, this high-level meeting facilitated global efforts to mitigate pollution, ocean acidification, and other pressing threats. The Ocean Conference wrapped up with a global agreement to reverse ocean degradation, along with over 1,300 pledged actions to protect marine life. This historic event has succeeded in raising the bar on global consciousness surrounding ocean issues.
2017 proved to be a deadly year for the endangered North Atlantic right whale. With a population of 300-350 individuals, this year’s 17 confirmed dead stranded whales (12 in Canada, 5 in the U.S.) was a massive blow to the species’ conservation. Now, this might not exactly seem like a win for the ocean; however, the tragedy has spurred Canadian officials to engage in much needed discussions and resultantly greenlight important conservation rules. Canadian Fisheries Minister, Dominic LeBlanc announced that updated regulations will involve a 100-metre buffer between vessels and large marine mammals, such as North Atlantic right whales, many of which died this year from boat collisions. LeBlanc further details that this amendment is only the first of many to come.