The Ocean Atlas 2017 shows an escalating crisis at sea

Press release

The Ocean Atlas - 12 brief lessons, 50 pages and over 80 eye-catching graphics and illustrations of vital facts and figures about our impact on the oceans (download/free use of graphics/texts here) - will be presented by authors and other experts at a side event of the UN-Ocean-Conference in New York on June 8th, from 09:00 – 10:00 am in the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations, 871 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017 (RSVP, info please scroll down).

Human activity is forcing unprecedented change on our oceans and coasts. With only 2% of the oceans fully protected, these are some of the most poorly governed regions in the world. Pollution, overuse and climate change are causing loss of habitat and biodiversity. A global rethink and local action is needed, urgently.

The oceans provide half of our oxygen and regulate our climate. They are one of the most valuable ecosystems our planet has to offer. They grant us food, climate stability, energy and recreation, but we are overfishing and overexploiting them, treating them like a dumping ground for animal, military and nuclear waste. As climate change causes them to warm up, the sea levels to rise and waters to acidify, our oceans are losing their biodiversity and productivity. Meanwhile coastal dead zones are expanding due to loss of oxygen.

The Ocean Atlas 2017 is a wake-up call. It’s published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Berlin and Schleswig Holstein, The Future Ocean cluster of excellence in Kiel and the monthly newspaper Le Monde Diplomatique. The group are calling for local action and global regulations to raise ocean awareness, inspire societal change and to protect our oceans.

In 12 brief lessons the atlas puts together the latest facts and figures on our impact on the oceans. It explains why we are seeing a rapid increase in acidity levels, how 90 percent of globally exploited fish populations are fully utilized, and 20% of them even overfished. Plus, the atlas shows what an alternative to problematic offshore fish farms could look like, which doesn’t rely on pesticides.

“As the primary regulator of the climate, the impact of man-made climate change on the ocean is considerable,” says Martin Visbeck from GEOMAR and spokesman from The Future Ocean, Cluster of Excellence. “If we cross certain climate tipping points we could reach a point of no-return. Our coasts, the ocean's’ ecosystems and humanity would suffer. But there’s some good news: We can avert this catastrophe. For the first time the oceans are on the international agenda with the sustainable development goal 14 (SDG) which calls for responsible use of the oceans’ resources. This is the focus of our research in Kiel. We are developing knowledge-based solutions to help preserve the ocean and its ecosystems”.

“Deep-sea mining poses the greatest future threat to the oceans,” says Barbara Unmüßig, President of the Heinrich Böll Foundation. “Harvesting raw materials from the seabed will damage its fragile eco-system irreparably, before we have even begun to understand the impact it will have on the seas, climate and land. The International Seabed Authority has issued 14 new exploratory licenses since 2013. That’s as many as in the last 12 years put together. Mining will begin in the next few years. It is of the utmost urgency that we impose a global moratorium on the extraction of raw materials and deep-sea mining until we understand the potential consequences and have set necessary boundaries.

The global political system governing the protection, management and sustainable use of the oceans is completely inadequate. It is poorly implemented and suffers from fragmentary jurisdiction. We need comprehensive governance with effective methods of sanctioning.”

“The oceans are pushed to their limits by pollution and waste,” says Dirk Scheelje, on the executive board at the Heinrich Böll Foundation Schleswig-Holstein. “Every year 8 million tonnes of plastic rubbish end up in the oceans and the resulting microplastic sinks into the depths. Poisonous microplastic gets swallowed by fish which end up on our plates and in our stomachs.
International trade pollutes our oceans with leaking fuel and emissions from 90.000 ships shifting 9 billion tonnes of cargo every year. Cruise ships are a further burden on the oceans as they venture into more and more remote areas. Tourism with its construction, sewage and traffic causes massive damage to the coastal seas. It’s imperative that coastal and maritime tourism is made more sustainable, if we want to preserve the quality of the seas and coasts for the next generations.”

The Ocean Atlas is free of charge and can be distributed as a teaching aid to educational institutions. The atlas is available online ( ) and in print in German and English. All the texts and graphics are available as individual downloads and licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 4.0 - therefore they may be used freely for any online/print publishing in media, as long as appropriate credits are given (for details see link to license).

The Ocean Atlas will be presented by the authors and other experts (all available for Interviews) at a side event of the UN-Ocean-Conference in New York on June 8th, from 09:00 – 10:00 am in the Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations, 871 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017

Panellists (all available for Interviews):

  • Prof. Martin Visbeck, scientific Co-author of the Ocean Atlas 2017, Future Ocean Cluster of Excellence Spokesperson
  • Steffi Lemke, Member of the German Parliament, Spokesperson for Nature and Marine Conservation
  • Alexander Müller, TMG Thinktank for Sustainability, UNEP-Project-Director TEEBAgriFood, former FAO Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources, Heinrich Böll Foundation Supervisory board member
  • Ulrich Bähr, Co-editor of the Ocean-Atlas, Heinrich Böll Foundation Schleswig-Holstein

Due to security concerns, an RSVP is necessary for this event, please register here.

The Heinrich Böll foundation is a political foundation linked to the German Green party. It is a think tank for green visions and policy reform, pursuing projects in over 60 countries.

The Kiel Cluster of Excellence "The Future Ocean" is a network of over 200 scientists from from a variety of disciplines at Kiel University (CAU), the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, The Institute for World Economy (IfW) and The Muthesius School of Fine Arts.

Press contacts:
Heinrich Böll Foundation,
Michael Alvarez Kalverkamp, press spokesperson,, +49 30 28534-202