Image Credit: Ramachandra Babu/©Gulf News

The ocean produces half the world’s oxygen, feeds the clouds that give us fresh water and helps regulate our climate. It brings us food, creates jobs and even helps make our medicines. Water is life, and 97 per cent of it is contained in our seas.

Yet the seas upon which we depend are in trouble — a crisis that was brought to life in the BBC’s Blue Planet II last year. The warning from Sir David Attenborough is stark: “The oceans are under threat now as never before in human history.”

Destructive and illegal fishing practices are resulting in more and bigger boats fishing for fewer and smaller fish. More than 90 per cent of the world’s stocks are now fully — or over — fished.

Around 13 million tonnes of plastic makes its way into the ocean each year — more than 10 per cent of all plastic that is made. Birds and marine life become tangled in it and ingest it.

Then there is climate change, which has warmed the ocean to a dangerous degree causing the loss of half of the world’s coral reefs and changing the chemistry of the water by making it more acidic. We are feeling the backlash of such warming in the hurricanes, typhoons, heatwaves and floods that are striking us with increasing regularity. The two of us know from our respective times in office how “once every hundred years” weather events seemed to be happening every few years.

The good news is that we have some of the answers in front of us. We have the ability to draw a line around some of the most precious areas of ocean to create marine protected areas (MPAs). There can be no industrial fishing or mineral recovery in these MPAs, only local fishing. That can replenish fish stocks and build resilience to climate change by giving marine flora and fauna places where they can adapt to changing conditions. MPAs are most successful when they are large, isolated and in place for at least 10 years.

The UK and US are world leaders in protecting the ocean. In 2015, the UK created what was then the world’s biggest MPA around Pitcairn Island, one of its overseas territories. That year the government committed to creating a “blue belt” around all 14 of its overseas territories in an unprecedented effort to conserve more than four million kilometres of ocean.

For MPAs and fisheries to be successful, we must make sure they are properly enforced. GPS and satellite technology, marine patrols and policing are vital. That requires collaboration with other nations. That, in turn, requires them to create their own protected areas, so the responsibility of enforcement can be shared.

At the moment, only 3.7 per cent of the world’s ocean has any level of protection, while just 2 per cent is strongly protected. We must do better. Indeed, the International Union for Conservation of Nature has recommended safeguarding at least 30 per cent of the ocean by 2030 to sustain the long-term health of marine ecosystems.

Goverments can make difference

That is why we are announcing that we are co-chairing the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Ambassadors, which aims to support countries’ efforts to secure and implement MPAs. We believe this initiative can have an impact by mobilising leading ocean advocates from every corner of the globe.

The two of us believe we can help galvanise global willpower to respond to the crisis in our oceans. We know how important the issue is. We know what it is like to be in office and to be confronted with many competing duties and obligations. And we know what a difference governments can make.

The opportunities offered by MPAs are not limited to the developed world. The Southern Ocean around Antarctica offers an excellent opportunity to expand the percentage of protected ocean. The Micronesian archipelago of Palau is a trailblazer, having set aside 80 per cent of its territory as a National Marine Sanctuary.

Mankind caused this crisis, and we have to be the ones to end it. We have made such strides before. We have saved animals from extinction. We have mitigated against the by-products of industrialisation. When it comes to this vast challenge, it will take the efforts of donor countries and the developing world, governments and businesses, individuals and whole communities, to turn things around. As Ocean Ambassadors, we are determined to play our part.

— The Telegraph Group Limited, London 2018

David Cameron was the Prime Minister of the UK from 2010 to 2016. John Kerry served as the 68th US Secretary of State from 2013 to 2017.