Save Our Seas

If, as Leibniz argued, ours is the best of all possible worlds, we should be doing everything we can to preserve it – and that must include the ocean, without which there can be no life on Earth.

The question of sustainable development has gone beyond intellectual considerations. For anyone in any way concerned by the well-being – not to say survival - of future generations, sustainability is a matter of the highest priority. The scale and implications of issues such as climate change are too great for any industry, including the luxury industry, or nation to ignore, even if a sense of urgency is still lacking in some quarters.

Reports published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) leave no room for doubt: Earth’s clock is ticking ever closer to midnight. The Fondation de la Haute Horlogerie (FHH) has been tackling these questions head-on by making sustainable development its theme for 2022/23 and by focusing its Watch Forum 2022 on this complex subject.

Organised each year for watch professionals, this day of discussion and exchange set out to increase attendees’ understanding of the issues surrounding sustainable development and specifically how the ocean is suffering as a result of human activity. The Foundation’s online platform published accounts of the various panels and debates as a springboard to explore topics relating to the ocean: a vital biotope that is slowly dying and whose resources are rapidly depleting. The $64,000 question being: without the ocean, what would Earth’s climate be like? The answer can be found on certain planets in the solar system such as Mars, which has striking similarities to Earth but with no water system and where temperature swings leave no possibility for life.


What we believed was an infinite resource is, through our own neglect, reaching its limits. An essential contributor to life on Earth, covering 70% of its surface, the ocean plays an invaluable role. It supports millions of living species that provide half the planet’s population with food. Ocean ecosystems are essential to the carbon cycle by producing 60% of the oxygen in the atmosphere and absorbing the majority of human-induced carbon dioxide. Considering the number of services rendered, it makes sense that we should do everything we can to preserve the ocean’s integrity. Except we aren’t. Through overfishing, pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, humans are transforming the ocean bed into a sickbed, and this spells environmental disaster. The pill is all the more bitter knowing that the first talks about the ocean’s plight go back to the 1960s.

Held in Lisbon in summer 2022, the United Nations Ocean Conference sounded the alarm. Addressing the conference, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that “we have taken the ocean for granted and today we face what I would call an ocean emergency.” The conference outlined four priorities, starting with sustainable ocean management alongside science-based targets to combat climate change: both essential areas if there is to be any hope of seeing marine ecosystems regenerate.


Once the “poor relation” of sustainable development, the ocean is capturing a larger share of the public debate. Alice Eymard, from Focal Point Oceans, WWF (Switzerland), has this to say: “The ocean has, for too long, been largely absent from global discussions on climate change. Now this is changing. The IPCC Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate as well as other research clearly demonstrate the urgent need to tackle the climate and ocean crises together.”

Policymakers and the public have woken up to the fact that there is danger in delay. This is already a huge step forward and one that opens up encouraging perspectives. A sustainably managed ocean can provide vital climate regulation, help feed an expanding global population, support economic development and ensure the protection of marine life and habitats. This is precisely why the United Nations declared 2021-2030 the Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development. Addressing plastic as well as noise pollution is essential; understanding how the ocean functions as a carbon sink and a source of energy is vital; knowing more about its biodiversity and sharing information as widely as possible is indispensable.

Technology and innovation have their role to play in reaching these goals, and science-based and nature-based solutions are fostering fresh initiatives. It’s a simple equation: the more species there are, the greater the ocean’s biodiversity and the more chance humans have to stay alive. Biodiversity is the sign that everything is connected. As more species disappear, surrounding habitats are destroyed which in turn endangers other species. Take away one brick and the entire building collapses. Numerous marine biologists have made the protection of ocean habitats their life’s work and are advocating for an increase in the number of marine protected areas. The Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework, adopted in December 2022, sets a target to conserve 30% of land, freshwater and ocean globally by 2030.


This is the context for the deal struck between UN member countries, in March 2023, for the protection of biodiversity in international waters (the “High Seas Treaty”). The first agreement of its kind, it was thrashed out over almost two decades of talks. António Guterres described the treaty as “a victory for multilateralism and for global efforts to counter the destructive trends facing ocean health, now and for generations to come.”

Deep seabed mining is one such trend. Because it is rich in minerals as well as diamonds, the seabed has become a target for commercial exploitation, despite the absence of any real understanding of the consequences on marine ecosystems. Marine diamond mining has already begun; will the UN agreement limit, even outlaw, deep-sea mineral extraction? The profits to be made from the ocean are tied to a financialisation of its “underlying assets”.

But can we put a price on nature? And if so, what would it be? Listed shares have a market value; why not the ecosystems whose survival dictates our own? This idea of monetising a common resource based on the services it provides is a fundamental question in a context of global warming and investment in climate action. The ocean is in the frontline, because of its role in maintaining ecological balance but also because, outside of exclusive economic zones, the ocean belongs to no-one. Or rather, it belongs to everyone. Ocean conservation is critical yet remains chronically underfunded. One of the main roles of the fledgling blue economy is to help fill this gap and science must be part of the equation. If we are to save ourselves we must first save our seas.