"Real-Time" Way To Observe
State Of World's Oceans
Oceans Atlas launched on
World Environment Day
/ Nairobi, 5 June 2002 - Amid mounting concern over continuing
deterioration of marine and coastal ecosystems, several of the
world's foremost ocean agencies, including the United Nations
Environment Programme (UNEP), have created an Internet-based Oceans
Atlas with the goal to help reverse the decline and promote the
sustainable development of oceans.
pioneering Atlas, that provides users with continuously updated
strategic data on the state of the world's oceans, maps, development
trends and threats to human health from the deteriorating marine
environment is being launched here in Paris on 5 June, World Environment
Atlas can be accessed online at: http://www.oceansatlas.org
Atlas is the first comprehensive real-time way to observe the
state of the world's oceans," said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's
Executive Director. Paying tribute to the other partners in the
Atlas project and in particular the Food and Agriculture Organization
of the United Nations (FAO) that led the initiative, Toepfer said,
"The atlas is the result of extensive cooperation in the
UN and with leading scientific agencies. It is state of the art
and an important source of information that will make a significant
contribution to events like the upcoming World Summit on Sustainable
Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg, South Africa."
need for the Oceans Atlas was identified during the 1992 Rio Earth
Summit in response to a call to identify and address the greatest
environmental challenges facing the planet. The launch of the
Atlas at a meeting of UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic
Commission in Paris on
June, comes less than 12 weeks before the Johannesburg Summit.
reference to UNEP's recently published third Global Environment
Mr. Toepfer said GEO-3 clearly shows the worsening state of the
coastal and marine environment, and the urgent need to take necessary
the impact on fisheries, Toepfer said, "Just under a third
of the world's fish stocks are now ranked as depleted, overexploited
or recovering as a result of over-fishing that is fueled by subsidies
estimated at up to US$20 billion annually. GEO-3 shows that marine
harvests have risen to over 80 million tonnes a year, but many
fisheries are in a state of collapse," he said.
online at http://www.unep.org/GEO/index.htm, also highlights marine
pollution as a major concern, one that seriously threatens human
health. And, it says the oxygen depletion of coastal waters due
to excess nitrogen is becoming more frequent and widespread with
major impacts on fisheries, aquaculture and tourism.
issues will almost certainly dominate the international agenda
later this century, if, as predicted, the Earth's continued warming
accelerates sea level rise and adds up to 1 meter to the height
of our oceans," Toepfer continued.
regions of the world are frequently fertile, densely populated
and invested with expensive infrastructure. The human and material
costs of a 1 meter sea-level rise would be huge, affecting over
70 million people in coastal China, 10% of the population of Egypt
and 60% of the people in Bangladesh. Among wealthier nations,
over 60% of The Netherlands' population could be affected and
15% of the people and 50% of the industry of Japan would be threatened.
In the US, 17,000 square kilometers of wetlands, and the same
amount of dry land, could be lost -an area the size of Connecticut
and New Jersey combined. In low-lying countries like the Maldives
or the Marshall Islands, the entire population is at risk.
than 2½ years in development after a decade of planning,
the UN Oceans Atlas represents the most ambitious global scientific
information collaboration ever online and an international consensus-building
tool expected to assist negotiations of future marine-related
has been a founding UN agency partner of the Atlas project and
one of the largest contributors to the uses of the oceans section,
covering topics such as disposal of waste from land, human settlements
on the coast, recreation and tourism. The organization's input
has been coordinated by the Hague-based UNEP secretariat of the
Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment
from Land-based Activities (UNEP/GPA) with Kenneth Korporal acting
as the UNEP focal point and representative to the inter-agency
UN Atlas Technical Committee.
compilation and development of appropriate content for the UN
Oceans Atlas has been a large undertaking involving a number of
experts in various UNEP offices and divisions scattered throughout
the world," said Veerle Vandeweerd, Coordinator of UNEP/GPA.
"The resulting information will ultimately feed into other
UNEP initiatives," she said.
Diop, Senior Environmental Affairs Officer with UNEP's Division
of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA) said the Atlas will serve
as an important resource for a possible future global assessment
of the state of the marine environment. A team from the UNEP World
Conservation Monitoring Centre helped write a large part of the
UNEP input. According to Mark Collins, UNEP-WCMC's director, the
Atlas should be the "first port of call for someone who wants
to get an overview of oceans issues."
Oceans Atlas is designed to be an encyclopedic resource but also
the world's foremost information clearinghouse and online forum
for experts in ocean issues.
reach broader audiences and regions where Internet access is difficult
the website will be supplemented by a CD-ROM and other media.
More than 900 topics are currently covered with 17 founding editors.
Further issues and several hundred designated topic editors will
be added over time.
Atlas contains an initial 14 global maps and links to hundreds
of others, including 264 maps showing the distribution of fishery
resources. A further 100 maps showing global ice cover, navigation
routes, earthquake and volcanic activity, temperature gradients,
bottom contours, salinity and other ocean characteristics are
being contributed by the Russian Head Department of Navigation
National Geographic Society will likewise make a major contribution
to the Atlas, including access to its map machine and marine-related
information from its extensive portfolio of books and magazines.
The Census of Marine Life, a global Washington-based organization
working to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and
abundance of marine organisms, will also make its resources fully
available through the Atlas.
UN Atlas of the Oceans is funded by the United Nations Foundation.
In addition, six UN agencies (the Food and Agriculture Organisation,
the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Maritime
Organization, the World Meteorological Organization, UNEP and
UNESCO/IOC) have committed financial resources to the project.
Other partners in the project include the UN's Division for Ocean
Affairs and the Law of the Sea, the Secretariat of the UN Convention
on Biodiversity and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
UN Atlas of the Oceans organizes information according to general
Uses - disposal of waste from land, energy, fisheries and aquaculture,
human coastal settlements, marine biotechnology, non-consumptive
uses, ocean dumping and ship wastes, offshore oil, gas and mining,
recreation and tourism, and transportation and telecommunications.
Issues - climate variability and climate change, economics, emergencies,
food security, governance, human health, pollution and degradation,
safety and sustainable development.
Background - including biology and ecology, how oceans were formed
and how they are changing, monitoring and observing systems, and
maps, statistics and online databases
Geographical - categorizes information according to geographic
the issues addressed:
Fishing: all 17 of the world's major fishing areas have either
reached or exceeded their natural limits and nine are in serious
decline, according to the FAO.
Piracy: the number of reported piracy attacks worldwide for 1999
rose nearly 40 percent compared with the previous year and almost
tripled compared with 1991 according to the International Maritime
Bureau of the International Chamber of Commerce.
Algal blooms: The number of poisonous algal species identified
by scientists has nearly tripled since 1984, increasing fish kills,
beach closures, and economic losses. Large parts of the Gulf of
Mexico are now considered biological dead zones due to algal blooms.
Coral reefs: Although distributed in 101 countries and territories,
where they are vital for fisheries, coastal protection, tourism
and wildlife, they occupy less than one tenth of one percent of
the oceans, according to the UNEP-WCMC World Atlas of Coral Reefs
Invasive species: Marine bio-invasions have been identified as
a major global environmental and economic problem with several
thousand species estimated to be in the ballast tanks of the world's
shipping at any one time. The Atlantic box jelly, believed to
have been released in a ship's ballast water, helped wipe out
life in the Black Sea. In San Francisco Bay, a new foreign species
takes hold every 14 weeks, scientists warn.
more information please contact: Robert Bisset, UNEP Press Officer
and Europe Spokesperson on mobile +33-6-2272-5842, email: firstname.lastname@example.org,
Korporal, (UNEP focal point and representative to the inter-agency
UN Atlas Technical Committee), UNEP/GPA, The Hague, tel +31-170-3114467,
email: email@example.com, www.gpa.unep.org
to Editors: World Environment Day is an annual event celebrated
on and around 5 June. This year's host city is Shenzhen in China.
It will be celebrated in over 100 countries this year.