Public Release: 

A sea of broken promises

Avoiding empty ocean commitments at Rio+20

Zoological Society of London

RIO: World leaders have made pitiful progress on their guarantee to protect global oceans from overfishing and other threats.

In a paper published today (Friday 15th June) in Science, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and world renowned researchers have reviewed commitments made by governments to protect the world's oceans and shown that there has been little success over the past 20 years.

At the World Summit on Sustainable Development in 2002, heads of 192 governments came together to agree on key issues - including targets for protecting vulnerable species and marine habitats and managing fishing sustainably in national waters. Ten years on, none of these targets have been met, and in some cases the situation is worse than before.

Professor Jonathan Baillie, Director of Conservation at ZSL, says: "Our analysis shows that almost every commitment made by governments to protect the oceans has not been achieved. If these international processes are to be taken seriously, governments must be held accountable and any future commitments must come with clear plans for implementation and a process to evaluate success or failure.''

Global depletion of fish stocks is threatening the integrity of ocean ecosystems. Risks posed by climate change, disease, and other pressures will have a huge impact on ecosystems already destabilized by overfishing, pollution, and other damaging activities. Collapses such as the Newfoundland cod fishery - once the largest in the world - came as a complete surprise to most people and has not recovered in the 20 years since the population crashed.

But a few areas have seen improvement. The recent creation of very large marine reserves around remote islands such as the Chagos Archipelago, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and South Orkney Islands is encouraging, and there have been improvements to the fishing gear used in some areas to reduce their impact on seabird populations. In general, however, the situation remains critical, and there is little or no protection for vulnerable marine habitats which continue to be fished in destructive ways.

ZSL's Marine Policy Officer Liane Veitch says: "There are large scale changes occurring in the oceans that weren't known to be a problem in 1992 or 2002, such as ocean acidification or mass coral bleaching, which we now know will make sustainable ocean management even more challenging. Rio+20 might be our last real chance to save ocean ecosystems and make sure we can manage marine fish stocks in a sustainable way."

Conservationists from ZSL will be in Brazil at Rio+20, encouraging governments to engage with policy makers to make a difference to our oceans. As part of the Marine Reserves Coalition, they will be hosting an oceans side event, as well as presenting the Pledge for a Better Planet to global legislators, asking them to sign a contract with the youth of today to commit to improving management of the world's resources.


Editors' Notes

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Media Information
For more information please contact Smita Chandra on 0207 449 6288 or email

From 13th June onwards please contact Emma Edwards on 0207 449 6280 or email

Professor Jonathan Baillie will be at Rio+20 from 14th - 17th June, and available for comment.


Founded in 1826, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is an international scientific, conservation and educational charity: the key role is the conservation of animals and their habitats. The Society runs ZSL London Zoo and ZSL Whipsnade Zoo, carries out scientific research in the Institute of Zoology and is actively involved in field conservation in over 50 countries worldwide. For further information please visit

Additional Author Quotes:

Dr. Heather Koldewey, Global Programme Leader at ZSL says "Practically everywhere would benefit from increased marine protection, because there are very few places that are not exploited or subject to some sort of harm due to human activity."

Professor Daniel Pauly, Professor the UBC Fisheries Centre says "Local fisheries successes are to be strongly commended, but we must keep in mind that the fisheries in most of the world continue to be unmanaged, and remain on their way down".

Professor Nick Dulvy, Co-chair of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group and Canadian Research Chair in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation says "Increased public awareness of these issues is really important to put pressure on their government to implement and meet commitments."

Professor Callum Roberts, Professor at the University of York says "The damage that deep-sea bottom trawling is inflicting on vulnerable ecosystems is irreparable on any meaningful human timescale, despite the supposed global moratorium passed by the UN General Assembly in 2006 which still hasn't been properly implemented."

Professor Alex Rogers, Professor of Conservation Biology at the University of Oxford says "There are many reasons for failure to comply with international law and agreements, for example non-transparent and non-accountable systems of governance and decision making, and short-term social pressures and commercial interests which have superseded long term sustainability of natural resources.

Dr. Susan Lieberman, Deputy Director of Pew Environment Group's International Policy team says "Rio+20 is a unique opportunity for governments to collectively show courage and leadership to reverse the worsening state of the world's ocean, and to take action to protect the largest reservoir of biodiversity left on our planet."

Marine Reserves Coalition

The Zoological Society of London and The Marine Reserves Coalition will be hosting their side event at Rio+20: "Oceans for the future: A healthy marine environment for sustainable development - commitments, progress and action." on Saturday 16th June 15.30 - 17.00 in Room P3-B

The Marine Reserves Coalition calls on the UK Government to commit to establishing representative networks of marine reserves throughout its territories that:

1. Are fully protected
All extractive and potentially damaging activities, such as fishing, dredging and mining, must be prohibited within Marine Reserves.

2. Cover at least 30% of seas under UK jurisdiction
To enable the recovery of marine biodiversity, including fish stocks, as required under EU legislation and other international obligations, it is imperative that the UK Government commits to designating at least 30% of its seas (including both the British Isles and the UK Overseas Territories) as ecologically representative Marine Reserves by 2020, with a clear timetable and means to achieve this.

3. Are managed effectively
Marine Reserves must be properly managed for the long-term to ensure that marine species and habitats within them are fully protected, with sufficient technical and logistical capacity available at the national and regional levels.

4. Protect outstanding areas in their entirety
Some marine areas that have near pristine biological, ecological, geological features should be protected in their entirety. Protection of these irreplaceable areas and natural resources is an obligation for the benefit of future generations.

Pledge for a Better Planet

ZSL, in partnership with Client Earth, has produced a Youth Declaration called 'Pledge for a Better Planet' which is hoping to gain the commitment of decision makers to ensure a healthy planet for future generations. During the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) held at Nagoya in October 2010, one hundred and ninety-three countries promised to halt the rate of biodiversity loss by 2020.

Pledge for a Better Planet wants to ensure that these promises are turned into binding commitments and governments will meet their goals. The Youth Declaration demands that key targets are met in 2020, including: reducing or halting the loss of biodiversity, stopping the extinction of species, reducing pollution to safe levels, restoring and safeguard ecosystems and the services they provide, managing and harvesting fish sustainably without damaging the marine environment and ecosystems, ensuring that terrestrial and inland waters and coastal and marine areas are sufficiently protected and managed sustainably, and conserving and restoring nature and living organisms so they can withstand, and help to combat, climate change and desertification.

The excessive use of the earth's resources is currently unsustainable and is adversely affecting all future life. It is the responsibility of this generation to take the necessary steps to ensure that future generations have the right to a healthy planet. The Pledge for a Better Planet will be presented by Date With History competition winner Brittany Trilford at the Globe Legislators Forum in Brazil on Friday 15th of June.

For more information please visit

Contact: Smita Chandra, 0207 449 6288 or
From 13th June onwards please contact Emma Edwards on 0207 449 6280 or
Interviews: Available with Liane Veitch or Jonathan Baillie on request
High resolution images available here:
HD B-roll available here:

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