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Mon 12 Jun 2017 09:02 AM

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Why ocean conservation is key to the UAE's post-oil economy

Local companies and CEOs are spending millions on marine conservation. Why? Because it's good business

Why ocean conservation is key to the UAE's post-oil economy

At last count, there were more than 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic trash in the world's oceans. Each year, 8 million tonnes more plastic is added to that number. That's equivalent to one full garbage truck dumping its contents into the ocean each and every minute.

While the oceans seem vast – big enough to take this enormous amount of plastic – the level of waste is starting to reach a crisis point. According to a recent report on ocean conservancy by the McKinsey Center for Business and the Environment, by 2025, the ocean could contain one tonne of plastic for every three tonnes of fish.

All these floating bits of plastic – from millimetre-sized plastic pieces to plastic plates and cups – not only disrupt marine ecosystems, but they also poison the global supply of seafood; plastic breaks down in to small pieces and is eaten by everything from plankton to whales. You might think that just because your business is far from the shore, that it's immune from our changing oceans. You'd be wrong. Damage to the ocean effects such far-flung industries as agriculture, retail and even property, and its impact becomes far more apparent in places such as the UAE.

At a recent event held by the Emirates Wildlife Society in association with the World Wildlife Fund (EWS-WWF), His Excellency Helal Saeed Al Marri, Director General of the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing, as well as CEO of Dubai World Trade Centre, highlighted the risks posed by ignoring ocean conservation, "The UAE, and Dubai in particular, is spending a lot of time diversifying the economy, and tourism plays a big part in this. The well-being and happiness of tourists and residents is paramount, and the marine environment is a major factor in this."

"The health of our marine ecosystems has a direct impact on several industries, including food, water, transport and energy, as well as tourism and recreation – in addition to having a further impact on much more," said Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, Deputy Director General of EWS-WWF. "Sustainable marine practices, planning and management directly benefits the economy, business and society, and helps facilitate the UAE's future sustainability in a rapidly evolving post-oil economy".

Speaking to senior business leaders from around the UAE and the Gulf, Abdullatif urged companies to take a more active role in protecting our oceans. She continued, "We encourage the private sector, civil society and key decision-makers to take a more active role in understanding and working to overcome the challenges that face our marine environment – and subsequent risks to UAE industry and business". And businesses worldwide are starting to take notice.

Large corporations such as Coca-Cola, Dow Chemical, Proctor & Gamble, Bank of America and Nestlé Waters have all pledged to tackle marine debris; be it through waste collection in countries where it is desperately needed, or the development of new biodegradable plastics. Says Dow Packaging and Speciality Plastics' global sustainability director in a press release: “We’re committed to working toward a future of a plastic-free ocean. Companies don’t make plastic with the intent of it ending up in the ocean, and we acknowledge the strong role industry must play in order to help eliminate ocean plastic waste by 2035.”

Even Silicon Valley is taking notice. Marc Beinioff, the billionaire founder of Salesforce, recently gave a US$10-million 'gift', backing a new research effort spearheaded by the University of California. In a recent statement on the so-called Beinioff Ocean Initiative, the Salesforce CEO said, "Just as we have hospitals seeking cures for devastating illnesses, we need a hospital to heal our oceans".

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