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Tuesday, 4 June, 2002, 23:07 GMT 00:07 UK
UN launches online ocean atlas
Cliff top view over bay
Atlas will help in future marine-related agreements


The UN is publishing an online atlas of the world's oceans to combat their unsustainable exploitation.

It says the continuously updated atlas will provide data on over-fishing, coastal habitat destruction and pollution.

This, it says, should help to protect not only fish stocks but also marine biodiversity, and even the climate.

It describes the atlas as "the most ambitious global scientific information collaboration ever online".


It will allow us to monitor problems in a way that hasn't been possible in the past

Dr Jacques Diouf, UN
The UN has chosen 5 June, World Environment Day, for publication.

It says the atlas will provide strategic data on the state of the oceans, together with maps, development trends and threats to human health from the deteriorating marine environment.

It expects the atlas will help negotiations of future marine-related agreements.

It will also provide information on ice cover, links to real-time maps and tracking data.

The atlas provides data under several headings - the uses to which the oceans are put; issues such as economics, emergencies, pollution and health; and geographical regions.

'Piracy rising'

It quotes the FAO's judgement that all 17 of the world's major fishing areas have either reached or exceeded their natural limits, with nine in serious decline.

On piracy it says the number of attacks reported worldwide in 1999 was nearly 40% higher than in 1998, and almost triple the 1991 figure.

The atlas identifies marine bio-invasions as "a major global environmental and economic problem", with several thousand species estimated to be in the ballast tanks of the world's shipping at any one time.

In San Francisco Bay, it says, scientists have warned that a new foreign species takes hold every 14 weeks.

Coral reef in Australia, popular with divers
Scientists warn coral reef must be protected
The number of poisonous algal species identified by scientists has nearly tripled since 1984, increasing fish kills, beach closures, and economic losses.

The atlas also spotlights the state of the world's coral reefs.

It says 58% of reefs are at high or medium risk of degradation, with more than 80% of south-east Asia's extensive reef systems under threat.

Dr Jacques Diouf is director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), which led the initiative to compile the atlas.

He said: "This is the first time a community of world scientific and academic experts has collaborated on an information product of this breadth and depth.

"It will allow us to monitor problems in a way that hasn't been possible in the past.

Global maps

"It will help coordinate and harmonise the work under way in various parts of the UN and in national agencies, academic institutions and other organisations."

Dr Klaus Toepfer, who heads the UN Environment Programme, said:

"Ocean-related issues will almost certainly dominate the international agenda later this century if, as predicted, the Earth's continued warming accelerates sea level rise and adds up to one metre to the height of our oceans."

The atlas contains an initial 14 global maps and links to hundreds of others, including 264 which show the distribution of fishery resources.

Another 100 maps showing global ice cover, navigation routes, earthquake and volcanic activity, temperature gradients, bottom contours, salinity and other ocean characteristics are being contributed by Russia's Department of Navigation and Oceanography.

Other collaborators include the National Geographic Society and the Census of Marine Life, a global organisation based in Washington, DC, which works to assess the diversity and abundance of marine organisms.

The website is complemented by a CD-Rom and other media.

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The BBC's Richard Black
"The idea is fantastic"
See also:

18 Feb 02 | Boston 2002
16 Feb 02 | Boston 2002
14 Feb 02 | Boston 2002
05 Jun 02 | Asia-Pacific
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