UN secretary general António Guterres addresses The Ocean Race Summits in Cabo Verde ©The Ocean Race

The United Nations secretary general António Guterres, speaking at The Ocean Race Summits Mindelo, Cabo Verde, has emphasised the need to safeguard the oceans against the myriad challenges they face.

Speaking to over 300 attendees at the Ocean Science Centre Mindelo, Guterres spoke of the major issues affecting the ocean, including overfishing, plastic pollution, the destruction of marine habitats and the impact of climate change, and urged the international community to become "the champions the ocean needs", adding:

"Ending the ocean emergency is a race we must win, and working as one, it is a race we can win.

"We gather on the shores of the mighty Atlantic Ocean today to celebrate something special - the inspiring courage of women and men sailing this gruelling six-month around the world race.

"It is also inspiring to know that every boat is carrying special equipment to gather scientific data to help ensure a healthy ocean for the future…

"Let’s end the ocean emergency and preserve this precious blue gift for our children and grandchildren."

Guterres welcomed commitments made at high-level conferences over the last 12 months.

"But the race is far from over," he said.

"We need to make 2023 a year of super action so we can end the ocean emergency once and for all," he added, stressing the need to effectively implement the many legal and policy instruments related to the ocean, such as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

UN secretary general António Guterres and The Ocean Race chairman Richard Brisius greet Kevin Escoffier, skipper of IMOCA Holcim, leg one winners ©The Ocean Race
UN secretary general António Guterres and The Ocean Race chairman Richard Brisius greet Kevin Escoffier, skipper of IMOCA Holcim, leg one winners ©The Ocean Race

"Humanity has been waging a senseless and self-defeating war on nature. 

"The ocean is on the front lines of the battle."

The UN secretary general underlined that around 35 per cent of global fish stocks are over-exploited, global heating is pushing ocean temperatures to new heights, fuelling more frequent and intense storms, rising sea levels, and the salinisation of coastal lands and aquifers.

"Once rich coral habitats are being bleached to oblivion. 

"Mangrove forests are being destroyed, taking the species they host with them," he said.

"Meanwhile, toxic chemicals and millions of tons of plastic waste are flooding into coastal ecosystems - killing or injuring fish, sea turtles, seabirds and marine mammals, making their way into the food chain and ultimately being consumed by us."

The UN secretary general stressed the need for action in four fundamental ways:

This includes "sustainable fishing practices…delivering massive support for developing countries…winning the race against a changing climate…

"Together with international financial institutions and the private sector, developed countries must provide financial and technical assistance to help major emerging economies transition to renewable energy."

The Ocean Race started from Alicante, Spain, on January 15 and will end in Genoa in June.

In the 2022-2023 edition, for the first time ever, the fleet has stopped in Cabo Verde at the end of the 1,900 nautical mile opening leg from Alicante.