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UN Oceans Atlas provides 1st comprehensive real-time tool to observe state of world’s oceans

The UN and leading international scientific agencies will launch on June 5 (World Environment Day) a pioneering Internet-based Oceans Atlas providing users with continuously updated and strategic data on the state of the world’s oceans, maps, development trends and threats to human health from the deteriorating marine environment.

More than 2-1/2 years in development after a decade of planning, the UN Oceans Atlas represents the most ambitious global scientific information collaboration ever online and an international consensus-building tool expected to assist negotiations of future marine-related agreements.

Amid mounting concern over continuing deterioration of marine and coastal ecosystems, several of the world’s foremost ocean agencies have created this new tool with the goal of helping reverse the decline and promote the sustainable development of oceans. Over-fishing, destruction of coastal habitat and pollution from industry, farms and households are endangering not only fish — the leading source of animal protein in the human diet — but also marine biodiversity and even the global climate. The Atlas will better spotlight these and the other most acute marine issues with, in many cases such as ice cover, real-time maps and tracking data.

The Atlas is designed to be an encyclopedic resource offering instant access to news, data, trends and maps. It will also serve as the world’s foremost information clearinghouse and online forum for experts in ocean issues. The Web site will be supplemented by a CD-ROM and other media, co-published with Cinegram Multimedia, to reach broader audiences and regions where Internet access is difficult. More than 350 topics are currently covered with 17 founding editors. Further issues and 400-500 designated topic editors will be added over time.

The need for the Atlas was identified during the 1992 Rio Earth Summit in response to a call to identify and address the greatest environmental challenges facing the planet. The launch of the Atlas at a meeting of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission in Paris June 5 comes less than 12 weeks before the World Summit on Sustainable Development opens in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The Atlas contains an initial 14 global maps and links to hundreds of others, including 264 maps showing the distribution of fishery resources. A further 100 maps showing global ice cover, navigation routes, earthquake and volcanic activity, temperature gradients, bottom contours, salinity and other ocean characteristics are being contributed by the Russian Head Department of Navigation and Oceanography.

The National Geographic Society will likewise make a major content contribution to the Atlas, including access to its map machine and marine-related information from its extensive portfolio of books and magazines. The Census of Marine Life, a major international program to assess and explain the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine organisms, will also make its resources fully available through the Atlas.