How healthy are the World’s Oceans?

Department of Conservation —  10/06/2017

By Kirstie Knowles, DOC.

The world’s oceans cover almost 71% of Earth’s surface. With World Ocean Day falling on 8 June, many of us may have been pondering the many wonderful things about this marine world of ours – the majestic marine mammals we know and love here in New Zealand, colourful coral reefs, productive mangroves and cold, dark deep-water seamounts and canyons. Though vast, with 7 billion people on Earth, each person has just one fifth of a cubic kilometre of ocean as our portion to provide us with all the services that we get from the ocean.


Photo: Joanna Penn

So just how healthy are our oceans?

This was a question addressed in 2002 by the World Summit on Sustainable Development. Recognising the gaps in our understanding of our oceans, the Summit recommended that a process be set up to find out how healthy they really are.

In 2005 the United Nations General Assembly began this process by establishing a ‘Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, including Socioeconomic Aspects’. Bit of a mouthful, so you’ll find it more commonly referred to as the Regular Process or World Ocean Assessment. The aim of the World Ocean Assessment is to improve our collective understanding of the oceans and provide decision makers with science-based information so that they can manage our activities in them sustainably.

World Oceans Day at the UN_Sylvia Earle_2017

Renowned oceans advocate Dr Sylvia Earle addressing the Conference on World Oceans Day

As an island nation, New Zealanders have a great affinity with the seas around us. New Zealand has been actively engaged in the Regular Process, with numerous experts from around the country providing vital input. In 2015 the first five-year cycle of assessment was completed with the adoption of the First World Ocean Assessment. This marked an important first step in strengthening the relationship between science and policy in world ocean governance.

This week, to mark World Oceans Day, New Zealand Minister of Conservation Hon Maggie Barry, helped launch the eagerly anticipated Cambridge Press publication of this first assessment. The launch took place as part of the Ocean Conference, which took place last week at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

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from left: Miguel de Serpa Soares, Under-Secretary-General for UN Office of Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel; Hon Maggie Barry, New Zealand Minister of Conservation; Senator Maxine McClean, Minister of Foreign Affairs for Barbados; Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed; H.E. Peter Thompson of Fiji, President of the 71st session of the General Assembly.


The second cycle of the World Ocean Assessment Process is now underway and marks an exciting opportunity for New Zealand’s scientists to collaborate with others from around the globe, to share their knowledge with us and to help us improve the health of our oceans.

For more information on the Regular Process of World Oceans Assessment, check out the United Nations page here.

One response to How healthy are the World’s Oceans?


    Just how long do we have before we over fish and overuse our oceans by greedy countries who flout rules and proteins discharge from land-based farming? Is the insect world our next cheap protein source?