The oceans with SARS-CoV-2
A nine-point agenda for immediate action
David Grémillet1,2, Britta Denise Hardesty3, Heike K. Lotze4, David Obura5,
Daniel Pauly6, Yunne-Jai Shin7 & U. Rashid Sumaila6,8
1 Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, UMR 7372, CNRS – La Rochelle Université, Villiers en
2 Fitz Patrick Institute, DST/NRF Excellence Centre at the University of Cape Town,
Rondebosch 7701, South Africa
3 CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, Castray Esplanade, Hobart, Tasmania, 7000 Australia
4 Department of Biology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, NS, B3H 4R2, Canada
5 CORDIO East Africa, P.O.BOX 10135 Mombasa 80101, Kenya
6 Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T
7 IRD, Univ Montpellier, Ifremer, CNRS, MARBEC – Univ Montpellier, place Eugène Bataillon,
CC093, 34095 Montpellier cedex 5, France.
8 School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC,
V6T 1Z4, Canada
Worldwide threats - such as SARS-CoV-2 - are becoming more pervasive with global change.
Solutions to environmental issues challenging nature and humanity are well-identified, but
our modern societies so far failed to implement them (Ripple et al., 2018). Yet, as the SARS-
CoV-2 crisis demonstrates in a spectacular manner, the functioning of entire nations can be
transformed within days if needed. Because of the current pandemic, humanity will adjust and
more people than ever are ready to transform the world we live in. This is a historical
opportunity to reboot our socio-economic systems and revise the values that underpin them,
to achieve sustainability and equity. It is essential for environmental scientists to stand up
now, to provide guidance before our societies are pushed back into business-as-usual.
The oceans are the cradle of life on earth, a critical part of global biogeochemical cycles, and
harbor essential natural resources. Marine life has suffered from the tragedy of the commons,
with extremely unequitable share of ocean services captured by wealthier nations. As
humanity is challenged by the current crisis, we need well-functioning oceans more than ever
to ensure our own resilience and survival. We are therefore calling for immediate and rapid
global action on nine key commitments to ocean conservation, with the overarching objective
of a collective, legacy mindset to decision making, to ensure the health and well-being of both
current and future generations. The following nine commitments encompass major
anthropogenic drivers that impact ocean ecosystems and marine life as well as dependent
1. Promote carbon neutral economies to mitigate global warming (Gençsü et al., 2020)
and climate-change effects on ocean ecosystems, as well as associated goods and
services (Lotze et al., 2019; Boyce et al., 2020). Ending jet fuel subsidies will be an
essential step, which will challenge our current mobility and mass tourism that have
large impacts on coastal ecosystems worldwide. In rich countries, the SARS-CoV-2 crisis
has shown that much personal mobility is actually superfluous, proving that this target
2. Support local food provisioning and sustainable land-use practices, including
agroecological practices, sustainable forestry and land-conversion, moving away from
the massive use of fertilizers, pesticides and other chemicals (Dainese et al., 2019). This
will have the triple benefit of shortening supply-chains, reducing pollution of coastal
zones, and providing livelihoods for inland populations which otherwise overcrowd
and severely alter coastal ecosystems. Such changes are on the top of the
environmental agenda because agriculture, notably as it is operated in wealthy
nations, is currently the main driver of environmental degradation (Pe’er et al., 2020).
3. Strive for social and economic dignity (Sperling 2020). This includes creating a universal
minimum income while ending harmful subsidies to all sectors, notably those leading
to fishing and agricultural overcapacity, and ensuring fair labor practices to avoid
modern slavery (Tickler et al., 2018). Nearly thirty countries around the world are
seriously considering implementing a universal minimum income, and most attempts
thus far report success.
4. Promote sustainable fishing by moving towards less destructive and more selective
fishing practices, by regulating the access of the high seas to fisheries (Sala et al., 2018)
and protecting areas within national exclusive economic zones through networks of
marine protected areas (Pauly 2018). This will also be achieved by preserving local food
production capacities, local markets, and local communities (Harper et al., 2020). At
the moment the SARS-CoV-2 crisis rather runs to the detriment of small-scale fisheries,
but there are also positive effects in terms of globally-reduced fishing pressure and the
revival of local seafood supply chains (Bennett et al., 2020).
5. Promote sustainable aquaculture practices. This will include farming lower-trophic
level species, preferably not salmon and other carnivores (Rosa et al., 2020), to move
away from the use of fishmeal and oil, and reduce pollution, destruction and other
harmful effects in coastal zones. This now achievable, notably through the use of novel
feeds (Cottrell et al., 2020) and low-contaminant integrated multi-trophic aquaculture
6. Place a levy on fossil-fuel-based manufacturing and products (Forrest et al., 2019). Tax
plastics at the top of the supply chain – and throughout - to ensure consistent pricing
that supports circular economic principles and promotes recyclability and economic
benefits for waste pickers; all of which will reduce plastic leakage to the ocean (Worm
et al., 2017). This point seems particularly important as the SARS-CoV-2 crisis is in the
process of generating large volumes of additional non-biodegradable waste.
7. Reduce maritime traffic. This will be achieved by preserving and rebuilding local
industries and supply chains, moving away from imports of luxury products, reducing
trade globalization and global tourism (Kellerman 2020). This will also have the added
benefits of reduced ocean pollution (noise, light, discharges), reduced ship strikes of
vulnerable species (e.g. whales), and reduced transport of invasive species. Such
changes are now being strongly supported by incentives to revive national industrial
activities, reducing global trade (Ozili & Arun 2020)
8. Apply the One-Health principle to ocean conservation and management
(Destoumieux-Garzón et al., 2018). Our societies have to take into account that marine
biodiversity and human health are intricately linked. More diverse, productive and
resilient marine ecosystems are needed to support a humanity otherwise riddled with
socio-economic stress and chronic disease (Blanchard et al., 2017; Boyce et al., 2020).
Shaken by the current crisis, humanity is ready to rethink its relationship with wild
nature (Martin et al. 2018).
9. Promote conservation of coastal land- and seascapes, including the protection of key
habitats such as wetlands, mangroves, saltmarshes, kelp forests, seagrass beds, oyster
and coral reefs. Those biodiversity hotspots serve as essential nursery, foraging,
breeding and spawning grounds for a multitude of species. They also capture carbon,
stabilize sediments and protect from storm surges. A recent synthesis demonstrates
that rebuilding marine life is indeed achievable by 2050 (Duarte et al., 2020).
Some will argue that nature conservation has become optional under SARS-CoV-2, because
humanity has more urgent matters to deal with. We strongly disagree with this short-
sightedness and think that we will face many other crises such as SARS-CoV-2 if environmental
issues are not being dealt with via a transformation of our societies. Taken together, the
emergency measures we propose in favor of ocean health challenge the notion of unmitigated
blue growth (Otero et al., 2020), but raise hopes for alternative socio-economic trajectories
enabling a future for humanity under the sea wind.
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