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How the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ Can Amplify the Importance of World Oceans Day

Every year on June 8th, World Oceans Day is celebrated across the globe. This day was created by the United Nations (U.N.) in 1992 to promote ocean awareness and is accompanied each year with a unique theme. For 2021, the U.N. chose to highlight the interconnectedness of “Life and Livelihoods'' that comprise the ocean.

Seaside Sustainability’s mission and the goals of World Oceans Day promote the health of our oceans through all levels of action. The economic concept of the ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ sits at the heart of the synthesis between the two mission statements. This term is often casually used in conversation, but doesn’t receive enough exploration about its meaning, or what it can tell us about our relationship with the world’s oceans.

The ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ is based upon a hypothetical situation: a shared resource free of cost and responsibility. For example, this could be an open ocean with no restrictions, if fishermen were to have no rules and no responsibilities. Rather than having to abide by certain regulations for their catch size, fishermen could take in as many fish as they please without considering the effects of their actions on marine ecosystems. However, over time, the ocean becomes entirely devoid of a key natural resource through overfishing.

The ‘Tragedy of the Commons’ is aptly named because the true tragedy is that our personal stake couldn’t be greater. While it may seem that there is no immediate consequence in caring for the dilapidated waters, the real concern comes with its long-run effects.

Presented as a high benefit/low cost situation, the eventual burden placed on society ends up being far greater than the minimal cost to have settled for a lower catch. World Oceans Day provides a crucial opportunity for us to understand the extent of our stake in the stewardship of our oceans.

At Seaside Sustainability, our mission of educating ourselves and those around us on the importance of understanding our interactions with the environment can help bring ourselves closer and closer to a more harmonious relationship with the world surrounding us. What better way to celebrate World Oceans Day?


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