If you want politicians to do something about the environment, what should you do?

Two schoolgirls from Bali, Indonesia, wanted to do something about the heaps of plastic bags blighting their beautiful island.

The sisters, Melati and Isabel Wijsen, aged 10 and 12 at the time, sent the island’s governor handwritten letters – every day, for two years. They also went on a hunger strike.

In the end, they got a meeting with the governor to discuss their Bye Bye Plastic Bags Campaign to make Bali plastic bag free by 2018. Today, their campaign is alive in nine other locations and has involved 47 beach clean-ups. Well done girls!

These were among the stories and issues shared at the the fourth World Ocean Summit in Bali from Feb 22 to 24.

The transition from a conventional economy in the ocean to a “blue” or sustainable economy could be a tremendous economic and investment opportunity, if done right, according to The Economist, the summit’s organisers.

The meeting gathered global leaders from government, industry, multilateral organisations, the scientific community and civil society “to bring a critical eye to the vital issue of how to finance a sustainable ocean economy”, reported www.thegef.org.

“The ocean is everyone’s business, providing huge investment opportunities to promote sustainability,” said Naoko Ishii, CEO and chairperson of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), during a high-level panel on financing.

Scientists have warned that the seas are facing unprecedented pressures from humans, and that we are running out of time to save them.

Hence, the urgent need to ensure a sustainable, or “blue” ocean economy.

Choking plastic

A truckload of plastic enters the ocean every day, according to a recent study by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and the World Economic Forum. By 2050, scientists estimate that there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish if we do not do something now.

Marine animals often choke and die from ingesting this plastic, or suffer from poisoning by the dioxin and other chemicals from this plastic mass.

A tourist walking past debris washed up on Kuta beach in Bali. Indonesia is facing a plastic waste crisis. Photo: AFP

A tourist walking past debris washed up on Kuta beach in Bali. Indonesia is facing a plastic waste crisis. Photo: AFP

But it’s not just about organising repeated beach clean-ups. Currently, most plastics are in a “one way” linear economy from being made to being dumped. The challenge being discussed is to create a “circular economy” where recycling plastics is part and parcel of business.

On the opening day of the summit, UN Environment launched a new global campaign to eliminate major sources of marine litter – microplastics in cosmetics and the excessive, wasteful usage of single-use plastic – by the year 2022.

The #CleanSeas campaign is urging governments to pass plastic reduction policies; targeting industry to minimise plastic packaging and redesign products; and calling on consumers to change their throwaway habits – before irreversible damage is done to our seas.

The summit discussed the important issue of how the blue economy is to be financed, exploring the opportunities, the risks and also what is defined as sustainable investment in the ocean.

It also provided insight into questions like how do large corporates and financial institutions evaluate the sustainability of their investments in the ocean and what will the global demand for seafood be in 20 to 30 years.

Speakers at the Summit included Jusuf Kalla, vice-president of Indonesia; Karmenu Vella, commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries at the European Commission; and Peter Thomson, president of the United Nations General Assembly.

According to intrafish.com, Vella said 70% of the Earth is ocean, yet over 95% of global economic activity comes from land.

“This is a huge economic opportunity but with that we also have a big environmental responsibility. Unless we really start protecting the oceans, all that potential will be lost.”

Governor Jay Inslee from Washington state, USA, told the the conference how the oyster industry in his state was wiped out by ocean acidification in 2005 with losses of over US$270mil (RM1.2bil).

He warned that the ocean acidity is set to double by the end of this century: “Unless we do something about it now, we have dire days ahead.”

While the summit was about how private investors can invest sustainably in the world’s oceans, outside the meeting venue, thousands of Balinese people took to the streets to protest against land reclamation in Benoa Bay, Bali.

According to the coordinator, I Wayan Swarsa, the protest was held to show the world that private companies can’t simply do what they like with the sea.

In the following video, Sir Richard Branson speaks at the World Ocean Summit: