Can the Environment and the Economy Thrive Together?

By Meigan Henry

“People often pit the economy against the environment, making us choose between one or the other, but that’s a futile dichotomy,“ argued Jane Lubchenco (Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere, Administrator, NOAA) in Friday’s opening session of the first ever World Oceans Summit.  Mirrored by many others at the meeting, this sentiment framed discussions around possible win-win solutions to the problems confronting our oceans.

Questions of the day included:

  • Can and should the oceans feed a steadily growing global population?
  • What are some solutions to the very serious issues of marine pollution and debris like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch?
  • How do we deal with the problems of over fishing and illegal fishing, which is estimated to bring in $24 billion annually?

One tool among many, marine protected areas (MPAs) have proven to be an ecologically and economically successful strategy for restoring ocean health and productivity in small pockets around the world.  But what circumstances are necessary for a successful MPA and how can we scale this idea up to have more far reaching effects?  National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala was one of the panelists discussing these issues and explaining his idea of “fish banks,” a twist on the MPA model that views MPAs as an investment opportunity, as well as a means for preserving biodiversity. (Follow Enric’s latest MPA-focused mission to the Pitcairn Islands.)

Enric Sala discusses the benefits of “fish banks.” Photo by Meigan Henry.


Kicked off with a video co-produced by National Geographic (see above), a highlight of the Summit’s last day was the announcement of the World Bank’s new Global Partnership for Oceans.  The Partnership is made up of key ocean stakeholders from around the world – governments, NGOs and advocacy groups, scientific organizations, private investors and industry – taking on the issues of over-fishing, marine degradation and habitat loss.  World Bank President Robert Zoellick explained, “The world’s oceans are in danger, and the enormity of the challenge is bigger than one country or organization.  We need coordinated global action to restore our oceans to health.  Together we’ll build on the excellent work already being done to address the threats to oceans, identify workable solutions, and scale them up.”

In that spirit, all 300-plus attendees divided into groups and spent the afternoon working towards innovative solutions to the issues at hand.  Representatives of various interest groups who rarely rub shoulders found themselves sitting down at the same table, trying to find answers to some tricky questions together.

Interviewed by the Economist at the Summit, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle’s thoughts were tweeted and re-tweeted often that last day: “What I hope will come out of this meeting of minds, is a greater awareness and appreciation for the value of the ocean as the ocean. [….]  What’s it worth to be able to breathe?  What’s it worth to have a planet that works in our favor?  Now for the first time, we’re beginning to realize what the value of maintaining the integrity of the natural world is, what that means to us.  It’s the value of life itself.”


More About the Ocean

Watch Sylvia and Enric Explain “Why the Ocean Matters”

Follow Enric Sala’s Latest Expedition

See Photos From One of the Most Pristine Areas of the Sea

Changing Planet

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