Brazil environment conference: delegates challenged to protect the world's oceans

Protecting the Earth's oceans represents one of the biggest challenges facing delegates from over 100 nations gathered here for a U.N.-sponsored conference on biological diversity, environmentalists said Monday.

Deep sea trawling in international waters has seriously depleted the world's fish stocks, threatening many species with extinction and radically altering undersea habitats.

While 12 percent of the Earth's land surface enjoys some form of the environmental protection, the same is true for only 0.5 percent of the world's oceans.

"The alternative is you pay now or you pay later. Either you restrict the amount of fish taken from the oceans ensuring stocks for humans in the future or you continue to mine them and stocks are destroyed," Roger McManus, senior director of Conservation International's global marine program, said by telephone from Washington D.C.

The problem McManus said is that most of the ocean's waters lie beyond the 200 miles (322 kilometers) that countries claim as their sovereign territory.

"Early in history, there was a discussion of how to divide up the oceans and the idea that prevailed was that everyone would have rights of passage. In some sense that's been misinterpreted as rights of use and abuse," he said.

Environmental groups are proposing that governments join together to declare protected areas, where fisheries would be managed in a sustainable manner.

Last week, the environmental group Greenpeace presented delegates at the eighth biannual Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity in Curitiba, 650 kilometers (400 miles) southwest of Rio de Janeiro, with maps showing which areas of the high seas most warranted protection, reports the AP.


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