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Our planet’s oceans support all life on Earth – and they play a key role in our global climate. But, sadly, humans haven’t treated oceans and other large bodies of water with the proper respect needed to preserve a sustainable future for our planet’s flora and fauna.

A chilling statistic was featured in a 2015 report from the World Wildlife Fund – it found an almost 50% drop in marine life populations between 1970 and 2012 based on trends in 5,829 populations of 1,234 mammal, bird, reptile and fish species in the ocean. Let that sink in for a moment. Over a mere 42-year period, the oceans lost almost half of their marine life. Among the heavily fished tuna and mackerel populations, the decrease was a drastic ~ 75%.

Taking exclusively pollution into account, a UNESCO fact sheet outlines a list of disturbing facts (click for the entire list), including:

· Approximately 80% of marine pollution originates from land-based sources such as such as agricultural run-off, discharge of nutrients and pesticides, and untreated sewage including plastics.

· Agricultural runoff and sewage outfalls contribute to “dead zones” – low oxygen (hypoxic) areas where marine life can’t survive. There are around 500 dead zones on Earth, with a total global area equivalent to the UK.

· Discarded plastics continue to be an issue for the world’s oceans and the North Pacific Gyre, also called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This is where waste material from coastal areas including North America and Japan is joined in a mostly stationary area twice the size of Texas. There are five gyres in the oceans including the Pacific Garbage Patch.

“Our oceans today are under siege,” says Bill Shireman, president and CEO, Future 500. “They are sacred living systems. Their value is intrinsically infinite, but they also are important to human life. They are the source that humanity intends to use for 60% of our future protein. We have reasons to protect our oceans.”

He described the Corporate Ocean Agenda as a signature achievement of EarthX. The Agenda is comprised of six steps that scientists and environmental leaders have identified – the most important steps for global companies are the use of their buying and political power to protect the world’s oceans and drive change across entire markets.

Shireman explains the six steps of the Corporate Ocean Agenda:

1. Sustainable fisheries. We need more marine protected areas that preserve the ocean’s lifeforms for future generations. We need transparent systems so that we know where our fish are coming from and that they’re not violating ethical standards.

2. Sustainable agriculture. We need to reassess and cut the flow of chemicals from farms and ranches into our rivers and oceans where they create dead zones. This destroys our coral reefs that are critical to the ocean web of life.

3. Sustainable cargo. We need to encourage our companies to use cargo ships that meet the same standards for air and water emission as do cruise ships. Meet those standards and we protect the oceans against chemical debris.

4. Sustainable mining. Stop the destruction of habitat in the oceans through sweeping mining operations that destroy whole ecosystems. There are simpler, basic, sustainable systems of mining that can extract what we need but leave the system intact.

5. Carbon dioxide emissions. The same compound that destabilizes our atmosphere also acidifies our oceans. We need to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide in our industrial activities so we can protect the oceans.

6. Plastic. Our oceans are increasingly burdened by plastic. There are microscopic pieces of plastic throughout the ocean- and these are becoming part of the ocean ecosystem. Scientists tell us that the volume of plastic in the ocean could equal the volume of fish in the ocean in just one generation. We must act to reduce the use of plastic. Companies need to join in a global effort to finance prevention of plastic and marine debris in our oceans.

As large of a threat plastics might be to the oceans, and most people would likely cite plastics as the number one threat,  Shireman sees carbon emissions as the more dire issue. Carbon emission pollution changes the pH balance of the oceans, turning them more acidic. This devastates many of the species we rely on. Simply put, carbon emissions contribute to climate change – and the oceans are disproportionally effected.

“Our oceans are living systems. They support us. We heavily depend on them in our lives. If the oceans go, we go with them,” says Shireman. “But more than that, oceans support life. They are sacred in and of themselves. That’s why EarthX is one of the leaders in pursuing ocean protection. Encouraging companies to support these six steps that can save oceans and encourage consumers to support the companies that do their work.”

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