Why Conserve our Marine Ecosystems?

Owens, Susan. 2008. Why conserve marine environments? (Comment). Environmental Conservation 35(1):1-4.

Summary

The urgency to promote the conservation of marine environments is analyzed by Owens (2008) as a moral injunction that involves acknowledging the right or wrong in using these systems for human benefit. The majority of the literature addressing this subject is in agreement that it is wrong to degrade or destroy these ecosystems and should limit human activities that cause harmful impacts.  However, the real question is why they should be conserved. The reasoning behind this principle has a direct influence on the validation for measures taken in conservation and on the types of policies that may ensue. Although this reasoning may vary over time, especially due to changes in policies and political influences, special characteristics of marine environments help reinforce the need to conserve this system. These unique characteristics include its ‘invisibility’ (e.g., presently, the ocean remains partially unknown), its vulnerability to human exploitation, and its wild nature that is in co-existence with the human world.

The author suggests that to justify the importance of marine conservation, prudent self-interest, in which the ‘services’ that are provided by these systems should not outweigh its unsustainability, is in favor of this rationale and may also be coupled with the limited understanding of these ecosystems. However, the key motivation is this: ‘the benefits of conservation outweigh the costs, such that humanity will be better off in the aggregate if the marine environment is protected.’ Several retorts argue whether the human needs and wants should overcome the efforts for conservation due to the utilitarian frameworks that prefer human welfare to be maximized and if the concept of intrinsic value, which considers non-human entities to possess rights and ‘…should be free…to pursue their own goods’, is valid when the basic needs of humans are in jeopardy. In principle, it is possible to reach a common ground in which the values and beliefs among private and public interests may concur on the behalf of conserving marine environments until these efforts are exhausted and differences in moral values may result in conflicting policies.

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CRA’s Comment

One of the obstacles that have been frequently mentioned in discussion sessions consisting of resource managers and users, in which UPRSG has participated, is the influence of politics on the development of strategies that may help improve marine resource management and conservation. Political agendas constantly change depending on the delegation that is governing at the time and, as a result, may alter efforts for marine conservation according to their particular interests regardless of the harmful impact that may ensue. However, Owens (2008) states that the basis for marine conservation is mostly founded on moral values and should be emphasized in order to establish a common ground among the protectors of these ecosystems and the adversaries that favor the utilitarian framework that maximizes human benefits despite possible damages to the environment. Local resource managers and users are in agreement that attempts must be made to go beyond political interests and create policies that will provide sustainable use of resources and render benefits for both humans and the marine environment.

Contributed by J. Seda

Organizations committed to marine conservation in the Caribbean:

Nature Conservancy – http://www.nature.org/wherewework/caribbean/

NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program – http://coralreef.noaa.gov/

CORALINA – http://www.coralina.gov.co/intranet/

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