By David Fogarty
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - The World Bank announced on Friday a global alliance to better manage and protect the world's oceans, which are under threat from over-fishing, pollution and climate change.
Oceans are the lifeblood of the planet and the global economy, World Bank President Robert Zoellick told a conference on ocean conservation in Singapore. Yet the seas have become overexploited, coastlines badly degraded and reefs under threat from pollution and rising temperatures.
"We need a new SOS: Save Our Seas," Zoellick said in announcing the alliance.
The partnership would bring together countries, scientific centers, non-governmental groups, international organizations, foundations and the private sector, he said.
The World Bank could help guide the effort by bringing together existing global ocean conservation programs and support efforts to mobilize finance and develop market-mechanisms to place a value on the benefits that oceans provide.
Millions of people rely on oceans for jobs and food and that dependence will grow as the world's population heads for 9 billion people, underscoring the need to better manage the seas.
Zoellick said the alliance was initially committed to mobilizing at least $300 million in finance.
"Working with governments, the scientific community, civil society organizations, and the private sector, we aim to leverage as much as $1.2 billion to support healthy and sustainable oceans."
A key focus was understanding the full value of the oceans' wealth and ecosystem services. Oceans are the top source of oxygen, help regulate the climate, while mangroves, reefs and wetlands are critical to protecting increasingly populous coastal areas against hazards such as storms -- benefits that are largely taken for granted.
"Whatever the resource, it is impossible to evolve a plan to manage and grow the resource without knowing its value," he said.
Another aim was to rebuild at least half the world's fish stocks identified as depleted. About 85 percent of ocean fisheries are fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted.
"We should increase the annual net benefits of fisheries to between $20 billion and $30 billion. We estimate that global fisheries currently run a net economic loss of about $5 billion per year," he said.
Participants at the conference spoke of the long-term dividends from ocean conservation and better management of its resources. But that needed economists, bankers and board rooms to place a value on the oceans' "natural capital".
"The key to the success of this partnership will be new market mechanisms that value natural capital and can attract private finance," Abyd Karmali, global head of carbon markets at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, told Reuters.
He pointed to the value in preserving carbon-rich mangrove forests and sea grassbeds and the possibility of earning carbon offsets for projects that conserve these areas.
"The oceans' stock is in trouble. We have diminished its asset value to a huge degree and poor asset management is poor economics," Stephen Palumbi, director of the Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University, told the conference.
(Editing by Robert Birsel)