The Mediterranean Sea is a “key pillar” for the development of the countries in the region, a senior United Nations official said today, warning that continued degradation of the aquatic environment could put its entire ecology at risk.The call came as delegates from 22 Mediterranean and European Union countries brought their three-day meeting on safeguarding and promoting a clean and healthy Mediterranean environment to a close in Paris.“The time has come for us to rethink how we manage our oceans,” said Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in his address to the gathered delegates. “They are a key pillar for many countries’ economic and social development, and are vital in the fight against poverty,” he added.The participating countries have called for the creation of a “blue economy” initiative which would be a marine version of the green economy, and hope to see a strategic policy framework adopted at the UN Sustainable Development Conference (Rio+20) to be held in Brazil in June. UNEP defines a green economy as one that improves human well-being and social equity while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.“Management decisions and investments that focus on the well-being of the oceans are essential if we are to continue to profit from this rich natural resource,” Mr. Steiner said, noting that too many natural resources found in marine environments were being degraded by unsustainable use, ultimately putting their ecosystems, food security and climate regulations at risk.“A ‘blue’ economy in the Mediterranean and elsewhere would be a big step on the right path,” he said.The world’s marine ecosystems provide essential food and livelihoods to millions of people. According to UNEP, a switch to a blue economy would unlock the potential of the marine-based economy while reducing ocean degradation and alleviating poverty. 10 February 2012The Mediterranean Sea is a “key pillar” for the development of the countries in the region, a senior United Nations official said today, warning that continued degradation of the aquatic environment could put its entire ecology at risk.