Online map of world's oceans goes live
UNITED NATIONS -- In an effort to focus attention on the failing health of the world's oceans the United Nations has marked World Environment day with the launch online of a global marine atlas.
The atlas will be continuously updated and is designed to track the state of ocean resources including threats to the marine environment such as over-fishing and the effects of climate change on the Earth's ice caps, as well as ship piracy, the spread of poisonous algae and offshore oil.
The 14 global maps which form the basis of the electronic atlas, maintained by a coalition of scientific institutions working around the world with the U.N., came out of a commitment made a decade ago at the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro.
"This is a very ambitious and important partnership for monitoring, diagnosing and we hope helping to heal the great oceans of the world," said former U.S. Senator Timothy Wirth, who heads the U.N. Foundation which provided the main $500,000 grant to fund the project.
Among the major concerns are the unsustainable exploitation of the world's marine resources -- primarily fish stocks -- and the effects of climate change on global sea levels.
These issues are expected to dominate international efforts into the future, if as predicted, global warming melts more ice and causes the oceans, which cover more than 70 percent of the earth's surface, to rise by up to 3.3 feet.
In the United States alone such a rise could drown some 17,000 square kilometers (6,630 square miles) of coastal areas -- approximately the size of Connecticut and New Jersey combined.
In China such a rise could affect over 70 million people, 60 percent of the population of Bangladesh and the Netherlands, 15 percent of the people and 50 percent of the industry in Japan and 10 percent of the population of Egypt, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (F.A.O.) which led the initiative said.
In low-lying countries like the Maldives or the Marshall Islands, the entire population would be at risk.
"The oceans play a crucial role in sustaining life on earth," said Jacques Diouf, director general of the F.A.O.
"This important new tool ... will help coordinate and harmonize the work underway in various parts of the U.N. and in national agencies, academic institutions and other organizations, and will serve a major role in moving the world toward the sustainable use of oceans for food security and human development," he said.
The launch of the ocean atlas comes as Australia announced it would not ratify the Kyoto climate change treaty aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are blamed for rising temperatures and changing weather patterns across the globe.
Fifty-five nations producing 55 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions must ratify the pact before it becomes binding.
Japan ratified the treaty this week and urged nations like Russia and the United States, the world's biggest polluter, to sign up.
In a U.S. government report issued Friday, the administration acknowledged for the first time that U.S. greenhouse gas emissions would increase significantly over the next two decades, due mainly to human activities.
It forecast that U.S. total greenhouse gas emissions would increase 43 percent between 2000 and 2020.
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