In this week’s episode of The Conversation Weekly, we ask a question – who is trying to make money from our oceans and is it sustainable? Also, why Brazilian women who lived through Zika are avoiding getting pregnant during the COVID-19 pandemic.
From deep-sea mining, to fishing, to oil and gas exploration, the ocean economy is booming. This is one of the themes that’s emerged from a series The Conversation has been running over the past few months called Oceans 21, examining the history and future of the world’s oceans.
A key question here is what the economic exploitation of our oceans is doing to the ocean environment. It’s important to balance economic growth with preservation of ocean habitats. But researchers – and to some extent, governments – are increasingly focusing on a third consideration: the people who’ve depended on the ocean for generations. In this episode, we speak to three experts about the tension between economic growth, environmental protection and the people that rely on oceans – and what’s being done to make the exploitation of the oceans more sustainable.
Jean-Baptiste Jouffray, post-doctoral researcher at the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University, Sweden, has come up with a new term to describe what’s been happening to the oceans over the past two decades: the blue acceleration. “Humanity has used the ocean for millennia as a source of food, as a means of transportation,” he says, but today’s use of the ocean is “unprecedented” for its diversity and intensity.
One of the prospects for further development that’s exciting some is mining the floor of the ocean for minerals including manganese, nickel and cobalt. There’s a lot of this activity in the middle of the Pacific, where mining companies are working on ways to collect potato-sized nodules rich in these precious metals.
But Anna Metaxas, professor of oceanography at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, says lots of unique animals including deep water corals and sponges live no where else on earth except on and around these rocks and sediment. These nodules also absorb a lot of the CO? that gets absorbed by the ocean. She says if you remove these nodules, “all of a sudden you’re affecting how much carbon has been sequestered, how much carbon is sitting within that sediment.”
Meanwhile, the effects of ocean exploitation on coastal communities in west Africa can be devastating. Ifesinachi Okafor-Yarwood, lecturer in sustainable development at St Andrew’s University in Scotland, tells us that fisher communities are being left deeply vulnerable. Some of those whose livelihoods have been destroyed by pollution or over-fishing, or who have been displaced by large development projects, are left with few options but to turn to piracy or other illegal activities. “This is unfortunately the cyclical relationship between the pressure on marine resources, primarily fisheries, and how it is affecting the people,” she tells us.
In our second story this week, we’re heading to Brazil, which remains a global epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic – just a few years after another devastating epidemic, Zika.
Zika, you may remember, caused some children whose mothers were infected during pregnancy to be born with microcephaly, or abnormally small heads. Our colleague Catesby Holmes, international editor at The Conversation US, wondered how Brazilian women who’d already lived through Zika were feeling about another novel disease outbreak, COVID-19.
She spoke with Letícia Marteleto, professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin College of Liberal Arts, about her research project in Pernambuco, Brazil - an epicenter of Zika that’s also been hit hard by the coronavirus. Marteleto and her team have been surveying women in the area about their attitudes toward having children. They found that Zika left an emotional scar on women. Many plan to avoid getting pregnant during this pandemic – even though the coronavirus does not appear to cause birth defects.
And Françoise Marmouyet, membership editor for The Conversation in Paris, tells us about a new podcast series about the state of democracy in France, the US and China.
The Conversation Weekly is produced by Mend Mariwany and Gemma Ware, with sound design by Eloise Stevens. Our theme music is by Neeta Sarl. You can find us on Twitter @TC_Audio, on Instagram at theconversationdotcom. or via email on email@example.com. You can also sign up to The Conversation’s free daily email here.
A transcript of this episode will be available soon.
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