Safeguarding our connections to oceans in a world of 8 billion people

By Truman Osmond

July 11th, as recognized by the United Nations (UN) in 1989, is celebrated as World Population Day. While one can look at the population growth of the world overall as an achievement for the human species, appreciating the benefits of globalization, the expansion of cultures and civilizations, and the technological advancements which have given way to the possibility of the population growth that we see today, it also calls to mind what implications that this populated world implies, especially the issues that it inherently comes with. Today, I want to look at the relationship between population and ocean and marine conservation, in an effort to better understand the challenges facing many sectors of our world in the current climate. 

World Population Day

For several decades, developments have enabled humans to live longer and produce more with evolution in things like agricultural production, medical practices, and technological advancements. A watershed moment for this development in significant demographic transitioning happened on July 11th, 1987, the day the world was believed to have passed 5 billion people. The public interest of the world passing this milestone sparked the UN Development Programme into action, and in 1989, July 11th was declared as World Population Day. Over 3 decades later, another population milestone was hit in November of last year, when the number of population reached 8 billion, raising numerous questions about what it implies.

World population has continued to exponentially increase over the years, with nearly 1 billion people being added per decade since the beginning of the 1990s. This exponential increase has put many demands and requirements upon human and environmental systems. Understanding the urgency of this situation is what World Population Day is about. It is an attempt to bring awareness to the questions surrounding overpopulation such as: Where will these incoming people live? Where will all of the extra food come from for them to eat? What kind of jobs or roles will they be able to have in society? These questions will not be answered without the implementation of sustainable principles to lead to a more prosperous future for all through adequate planning.

Overpopulation can cause severe problems for future generations, especially in vulnerable coastal areas. In 2003, there were approximately 3 billion people living within 200 km of the coastline, roughly about half of the world's population (Creel, 2003). Thinking about how much these regions have grown since then, and will continue to grow alongside the world population, one can imagine the short- and long-term impacts that this trend will cause, in terms of destruction of habitats and environments in favour of developing communities, as well as further reliance on ocean resources, which put a strain on the natural ecosystems. In the longer run, climate change influences to coastal regions will also be impacted by the population increase. More people will mean more contributions to climate change, resulting in warmer temperatures and sea levels rise, which will immediately affect coastal areas. Property and developments on the coastline will eventually vanish, and people will be forced to move inland. From the justice perspective, this future displacement of people will disproportionately affect marginalized communities as they may not have the means to pre-emptively relocate or repair damages to their homes. Similarly, small=scale fisheries will likely be affected as big corporations will be able to thrive and grow as part of the Blue Economy, with their capacity to take on large influxes of people to work in large-scale industries like oil and gas exploration, shipping, and tourism. Blue Justice is then difficult to achieve.

Moving Together for Marine Conservation

With the growing population, coupled by climate change, there is an ever-growing concern with the challenges the world is facing, and the need to find ways to better the relationship between people and the natural environment. Living on the island of Newfoundland, marine sustainability and conservation have been at the top of concerns throughout my undergraduate degree in Geography, and personal life, knowing that coastal communities are highly vulnerable and will be the first to be affected by climate change impacts. My current work, as a young researcher in the field of marine and ocean conservation, has enabled me to learn more about the issues and better understand both the challenges and solutions in a modern day context, through several research projects and events related to the Moving Together for Marine Conservation (MTC) project.

One of the MTC events that I participated in was a workshop, held on May 31st, which brought together individuals whose work either directly of indirectly involves marine conservation. The main objective was to learn about the current activities and the existing initiatives related to marine conservation in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as to brainstorm ideas about mechanisms and avenues to promote conversation about marine conservation, and ocean connection in general.

It was here that I learned the importance of personal connections, without which it is hard for people to truly care about what’s happening in the ocean, and thus to contribute to positive change. It was interesting to learn about distinctive connections the participants had with marine conservation and oceans, and how the difference in these connections altered their relationship with such. While some felt the direct connections through their work on research, policy, or even harvesting, it seemed that those with a more informal connection, such as through family or culture, had a stronger view about fairness and equality, especially in the context of the Indigenous people. Neither the formal nor informal connection seems static, however, as participants stressed how changes to fishing regulation, moratoriums, and cultural evolution had altered, often weakened, their connection over the years. It was further noted how it is important to establish youth connection to the ocean in the face of these changes, particularly in places like NL that face rapidly aging workforce but that rely heavily upon marine and ocean-based industries. Facilitating and analyzing interactions is also an imperative component of connection, where the workshop discussion helped to understand the complex relationship between people, oceans, and conservation.

The second MTC event I took part in was a panel session, organized as part of the Oceans Research in Canada Alliance (ORCA) conference, held in St. Johns this past June. ORCA is an organization that aims to improve the coordination of ocean science and technology in Canada, in order to increase the collective knowledge, align efforts, and strengthen collaborations in the field.

The MTC session, titled 'Conserving Together for a Just Ocean', featured a cross-sectorial panel, including Ross Hinks (Miawpukek First Nations), Kimberly Orren (Fishing for Success), Amanda Lim (Shorefast), Sydney Sullivan (Atlantic Healthy Oceans Initiative), and Gemma Raynor (Oceans North), to discuss the key issues and challenges for a just ocean. The discussion covered topics such as equity vs equality, fair and just access, equitable representation in decision making, transparency in governance, and more recognition of stakeholders voices in policy formation and decision making. Knowing that experts and professionals in the field consider these the forefront topics in the realm of ocean justice is extremely valuable in moving forward with the marine conservation and ocean management goals.


World Population Day is an important day to raise awareness about the implications of overpopulation and to examine the issues that come with it. With the world population reaching 8 billion, these issues will only grow larger in magnitude, and will continue to shape the management of our coasts and oceans. Much like the importance of connection talked about in the MTC workshop, the connection between people, organizations, and governments are crucial in dealing with issues of overpopulation and the associated challenges. It is not that we need to halt marine industries nor give up using the ocean and its resources, just like we do not need to prevent people from having families, raising children, and living in an ever-globalizing world. It is just that we need to have a more responsible relationship with it. It is also not only the people living on the coast that need to be concerned with these issues, but the people inland as well. The ocean connects everyone, from the food that people eat, the culture people embrace, and the industries that help improve our livelihoods. As we mark World Population Day, let us reflect on how we can enhance the connection between people and the ocean, and work together to create a more sustainable future for our planet.


Truman Osmond is a research assistant with the TBTI Global. He recently completed his BSc in Geography at Memorial University and and is excited to continue his studies by joining Memorial University's faculty of education, intermediate/secondary program this upcoming fall. His research has primarily focused on that of sustainable fisheries and marine conservation, predominantly within the context of Newfoundland and Labrador. Truman is particularly interested in the human dynamics of the scientific ocean landscape, investigating how things like culture, heritage, and societal values play a part in understanding the issues facing current day marine research and industries.