Climate Change Poses a Threat to Our Oceans

By Isabella Lövin

In 2016, the First Global Integrated Marine Assessment, also known as the World Ocean Assessment I, was published. The introduction of the report is fascinating. It states that 70 per cent of the planet’s surface is covered by water and that the average depth is 4,000 metres. These oceans contain 97 per cent of all water on Earth, which is the equivalent of approximately 1.3 billion cubic kilometres. This can seem like an infinite amount.

But the report also states that there are now more than 7 billion people on Earth. If we divided all of this water equally between us, we would only have one fifth of a cubic kilometre each. And in 2050, when there will be some 10 billion people on Earth, we will only have one eighth of a cubic kilometre per person. This relatively small amount of water is what will provide each person with all ecosystem services, including food and oxygen. But this is also where some of our emissions, our waste and our rubbish will end up.

Oceans, however, happen to be borderless and are also unevenly distributed across the planet. We cannot protect our share of the ocean with walls; instead, we must cooperate in a spirit of solidarity if we are to succeed in preserving and protecting the water that we have at our joint disposal. We must work together with our closest neighbours and cooperate at a global level, between countries.

The importance of the 2030 Agenda and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) cannot be stressed enough. They light our way through the darkness that is currently shrouding the world. Progress is being made on many of the SDGs, but one of the goals for which developments are unfortunately moving in the wrong direction is SDG 14, which calls on the international community to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”.

This is why the Government of Sweden, together with the Government of Fiji, took the initiative to host the Ocean Conference in New York in June 2017. The Conference will be the first high-level forum to focus on one single goal in the 2030 Agenda, and we are enthusiastic to see growing engagement among the countries of the world.

One of the many issues demanding immediate attention at the Conference is the impact of climate change on the global marine environment. Although the ocean is the single largest habitat on our planet and is a system that is inextricably linked to human survival, climate change and the impact of increasing carbon dioxide emissions on the oceans have been largely overshadowed in the climate change debate. The oceans—which produce half of all our oxygen, regulate the Earth’s climate and temperature, give us food and water, and are home to hundreds of thousands of species-have for a long time been our best ally in efforts to curb climate change. More than 93 per cent1 of all the heat people have added to the planet since the 1950s has been absorbed by the oceans—but at a price we are just beginning to understand. Rising ocean temperatures and increased acidification are now becoming apparent in melting Arctic sea ice and coral bleaching. Immediate action is needed here and we must use our entire toolbox at once: mitigation, protection, restoration and adaptation.

The warming of the oceans over the past 60 years has taken place on such a scale that it is difficult to take in. A 2015 analysis produced by the Grantham Institute shows that if the same amount of heat that was added to the top two kilometres of the oceans between 1995 and 2010 had instead been added to the bottom ten kilometres of the atmosphere, we would have seen the temperature on Earth rise by 36 degrees Celsius. So the oceans have protected us from the worst effects of climate change. But there is great uncertainty regarding the ability of the ocean to absorb carbon dioxide in future. If the oceans have so far been our best friend, there is now the risk in the foreseeable future that they will begin to send us the bill: a large proportion of the emissions we have caused since the 1900s, now stored in the oceans, may return to the atmosphere.

Ocean acidification can be called the chemical crisis of the global climate. Alongside global warming, ocean acidification risks pushing marine life beyond catastrophic limits. Since industrialization, acidification of ocean surface water has increased by almost 30 per cent.2 Coral reefs will be one of the most immediate victims of climate change if we do not take action very quickly. Although coral reefs make up just 1 per cent of the surface of the oceans, as much as 25 per cent of marine species are dependent on them. The breakdown of coral reef ecosystems also affects the protection of coastal zones, fisheries and tourism. Without a drastic reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, by 2050 almost all of the world’s coral reefs may have been subjected to such acidic conditions that they will be only marginally able to form calcium and continue growing.

Researchers have estimated that the oceans are home to up to 1 million different species.3 Increased ocean temperatures risk causing the mass migration of species, resulting in the global homogenization of biodiversity. This would mean a decline in the numbers of species in the warmer water regions and a drastic increase in the colder regions around the poles. This kind of change could have a very serious impact on global fisheries and aquaculture. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that fish now account for 20 per cent of the animal protein source for around 3 billion people. Along with population growth, poor fisheries management and increased fish exports, changes in the local fish fauna can have enormous consequences for food security, especially in poor coastal countries where many people depend on fishing for their daily living.

Climate change also threatens the supply of oxygen in the oceans in two different ways. Firstly, warm water cannot hold as much oxygen as cold water, so as the oceans warm up, oxygen levels drop. Secondly, warmer water has lower density, making it more difficult for the oxygen-rich water near the surface to sink and circulate. Consequently, deep oceans face a particularly great risk of oxygen depletion. Fish that are dependent on oxygen will grow more slowly, decrease in size and reproduce less. Larger fish such as tuna, swordfish and shark, which are dependent on a large amount of oxygen, will be driven to more oxygen-rich surface waters, as will a large proportion of their prey. This will lead to increased food competition. Creatures living in or on the seabed will also need to seek out shallower waters. The knock-on effect of this will be a clear risk of even more overfishing, as more sea creatures will inhabit smaller and more easily accessible areas, becoming more readily fished.

One example of a ‘hot spot’ for the effects of climate change on oceans is the Arctic. Here, both warming and acidification are occurring particularly rapidly and to a greater extent than in many other places in the world. Scientific findings show an increased risk of crossing large-scale tipping points in the Arctic, such as the collapse of summer sea ice, melting ice sheets and methane emissions from melting permafrost, which may all have very significant global consequences-not least with regard to rising sea levels. The biodiversity and ecosystems in the Arctic are irreplaceable assets of global importance. Many Arctic species, ecosystems and habitats are at risk of disappearing completely, or remaining only as isolated fragments. As the ice sheet melts, increasingly large areas in the Arctic are now opening up for shipping and extracting natural resources such as oil, gas and fish. In November 2016, the planet sent perhaps its clearest warning yet, when the temperature in the Arctic was measured at a shocking 20 degrees Celsius warmer than what is normal for that time of year. The abrupt warming of the Arctic entails a dramatic change in life conditions not only around the North Pole, but also for the rest of the planet. Permanent ice at the North and the South Poles is a prerequisite for a stable planet. A self-heating Arctic will have major effects on global climate. Let us therefore hope that this was the last alarm bell from the planet before we humans came together and succeeded in reversing the trend.

It is impossible to estimate the economic value of living oceans for us humans; they are in essence the actual prerequisite for human existence. It is beyond doubt, however, that the effects of climate change on the oceans will entail major economic costs. For example, the cost of reduced tourism due to coral bleaching has been estimated to be as much as $12 billion annually. If lost ecosystem services from reefs are included, the annual cost is estimated to reach $1 trillion by the year 2100.4 But the truly great costs will be measured in the form of reduced human health and security.

Keeping global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, and aspiring to 1.5 degrees Celsius under the Paris Agreement, is fundamental to mitigating the impact of climate change on our oceans. Sweden is prepared to take a leading role in international climate efforts and has the goal of being one of the world’s first fossil-free welfare nations. Sweden has also doubled its contributions to multilateral climate financing in recent years and is now the largest per capita donor to many of the multilateral climate funds, including the Green Climate Fund, the Global Environment Facility and the Adaptation Fund. Climate change is also central to much of Sweden’s bilateral cooperation and we want to work proactively to strengthen initiatives that are linked to the impact on oceans. Immediate and dramatic cuts in carbon dioxide emissions will buy us time to strengthen the resilience of oceans, ecosystems and species, that is, their ability to adapt to the negative impact of climate change and the inevitable stressors already in operation in our oceans. Fish that can easily migrate will be able to find new habitats, and organisms with short reproductive cycles such as plankton can evolve to adapt to the new conditions.

Drastic measures must be employed to strengthen the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems. It is still possible to preserve large, relatively unaffected marine ecosystems if measures are taken now. Sweden has allocated substantial funds to protect valuable marine environments in national waters and meet the commitments under the Convention on Biological Diversity, but protection of marine environments is also an important issue in regional and international cooperation. Moreover, the impacts of climate change must be considered in assessments of threatened species and in formulating advice on which measures need to be taken.

In the light of the various stress factors acting on our oceans, the sustainable management of marine resources-not least measures to ensure improved food security—is more important than ever. Forceful measures are essential to stop overfishing and illegal fishing, and ensure a move from industrial fishing to small-scale fishing in coastal nations where many people are dependent on fish for their daily living. Further forceful measures are necessary to prevent and reduce marine pollution, including marine debris and the inflow of nutrients. Finally, we must also invest more in research to increase our scientific knowledge in all these areas.

The impact of climate change on our oceans can no longer be described in isolated, individual stories about bleached coral reefs; it involves fundamental changes to ecosystems and marine life on a scale we are only just beginning to imagine. We must act now and put oceans at the centre of our climate efforts. The great interest in the Ocean Conference from all parts of the United Nations system, the science and business sectors, and civil society demonstrates that the international community is ready to take forceful action.

 

Notes

1       Sydney Levitus and others, “World ocean heat content and thermosteric sea level change (0-2000m), 1955-2010”, Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 39, No. 10 (17 May 2012).

2       Richard A. Feely, Scott C. Doney and Sarah R. Cooley, “Ocean acidification: present conditions and future changes in a high-CO2 world”, Oceanography, vol. 22, No. 4 (December 2009), pp.36-47.

3       Ward Appeltans and others, “The magnitude of global marine species diversity”, Current Biology, vol. 22, No. 23 (4 December 2012), pp. 2189-2202.

4       Jean-Pierre Gattuso and others, “Contrasting futures for ocean and society from different anthropogenic CO2 emissions scenarios”, Science, vol. 349, No. 6243, (3 July 2015), pp. aac.4722-1-4722-10.

 

Author bio: Isabella Lövin is Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate and Deputy Prime Minister of Sweden.

Know Your Ocean. Love Your Ocean.

By Emily Penn

I was woken in the middle of the night by a thud on the hull of our boat. We rushed up on deck to find we were surrounded by pieces of plastic floating in the ocean. It didn’t make any sense. We were over 1000 miles from land. The closest people to us were in the International Space Station, in orbit above our heads. And yet here was evidence of human life, and waste, all around us in one of the most remote parts of our planet.

I was just out of university and working my passage to Australia when this incident sparked a new career direction for me: sailing the world on a mission to connect people—scientists and communicators—with the ocean, exploring marine issues from the Equator to the Poles.

At sea I saw first-hand the collapse of fisheries, toxic chemicals accumulating in marine organisms, island communities relying on imported packaged food and the extent of plastic pollution. We would stop at small islands and find that the locals could no longer catch fish to feed their families because commercial vessels had caused their fisheries to collapse. They could no longer grow crops in the ground as the rising sea levels had made their soil too salty. The consequence of this was a new reliance on imported food that comes wrapped and packaged in this strange new material—plastic.

With no system in place to deal with this trash, it ends up getting thrown on the beach and in the ocean, and is often burned. That stench of burning plastic kept getting in my nose. When I started researching what the smell was, I learned about certain chemicals—dioxins—that are formed during incomplete combustion of waste, and how they are carcinogens that can get absorbed into our bodies.

And so this became my first mission: to eliminate the burning of plastic across a group of islands in Tonga.

THE TONGA CHALLENGE

First it was about shifting thinking. As I started learning the Tongan language, I realized there wasn’t a word for ‘rubbish bin’ on these South Pacific islands. The concept of throwing something away into a managed system didn’t exist in that culture, as it hadn’t needed to exist until very recently-organics can be thrown on the ground without problem. It wasn’t only infrastructure that was needed; it was a whole new way of thinking about this new inorganic material.

Six months of working and teaching with the local community culminated in a colossal clean up. Together with 3,000 local volunteers we picked up 56 tons of trash in just 5 hours.

This amount of trash staggered me. We collected what was being produced locally, but also what was washing up on the shoreline each day, including items with packaging labels written in languages I didn’t recognize. This got me asking more questions—where was this plastic coming from and why was it ending up on these remote islands in the Pacific?

And so I started to learn more about how we use plastic.

THE DESIGN PROBLEM

It turns out we use nearly 2 million plastic bags, globally, every minute.1 Those bags get used once, maybe twice, probably three times at best. Then they are thrown away. Plastic is an amazing material because it is designed to last forever. We use it to make products such as plastic bags and bottles that are designed to be used once and then thrown away. This mismatch of material science and product design puts us in the situation of having vast amounts of waste that no longer has any use or value.

But that’s OK, I thought. Can’t we just recycle all that plastic? Well no, apparently we cannot. Less than 10 per cent of plastic used in the United States of America ends up getting recycled.2 A visit to a recycling centre showed me why that number was so low. Plastic is an umbrella term we give to many different materials that all have different properties, and therefore different chemical structures. To recycle them, they first need to be cleaned and separated, a lengthy and expensive process, which in itself consumes enormous amounts of energy and water. There also needs to be a demand for people to pay more for recycled materials rather than opt for cheaper virgin plastic.

Given that we have all this used plastic with no place to go, it is not surprising that we see tons—up to 8 million metric tons each year3—washing down our streams and waterways and into the ocean.

I learned about where plastic goes when it leaves land, and how it moves with the ocean currents and ends up accumulating in five hot spots—known as the five subtropical oceanic gyres. In the centre of the gyre (the large system of rotating currents) the ocean is calm and everything, whether it is a piece of organic debris or a piece of plastic, is drawn to the centre. I heard about floating ‘islands’ of plastic, but the more I learned the more I realized how little we collectively knew.

And so this became the next mission: to sail to these accumulation zones and find out what really existed there.

ON A MISSION TO THE GYRES

We went searching for islands of plastic—for areas that could be scooped up and brought back to land for recycling. But we quickly realized that the plastic pieces were smaller than expected. Plastic waste doesn’t just float around in big rafts on the surface. Ultraviolet light photodegrades it into tiny fragments. Some sink, and some are ingested by marine life.4 On my extensive voyages across the globe I have discovered that it is the same story everywhere—not only in the gyres, but all the way from the Tropics to the Arctic. Our oceans have become a fine soup of plastic fragments.

Much of it can’t be seen from the surface by the human eye, which makes the seas look cleaner than they really are, and makes large-scale clean up an immense challenge. We had to take a fine net through the water to take a closer look. Each time we turned the net inside out, we would find hundreds of tiny fragments of plastic.

When we got the samples on board, we analysed them. I was shocked by how difficult it was to distinguish the plastic from the plankton. I wondered how fish cope figuring out what is plastic and what is food. And so we caught fish and looked inside their stomachs, only to realize that there was plastic there too.

This opened up a whole new series of questions. We were not only concerned about the effect plastic may have on the environment through its physical presence, but what about the chemical impact? Given that plastic is getting into the food chain-our food chain-could this mean toxic chemicals are getting inside us?

THE POISON INSIDE

I decided to have my blood tested, to find out what toxic chemicals I have inside me. Working together with the United Nations Safe Planet Campaign,5 we chose to test for 35 chemicals that are all banned because they are known to be toxic to humans and the environment. Of those 35 chemicals, we found 29 of them inside my body.

This is when things really changed for me. So often when we talk about environmental problems we hear about things that are happening somewhere else, to somebody else, at some point in the future. It seems, however, that you and I already have a body burden, a chemical footprint that we will never get rid of. And while the concentrations of chemicals I currently have inside me are not alarmingly high, it’s a chilling indicator of the direction in which our society might be heading.

THE SOLUTIONS

If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

Albert Einstein

Exploration, understanding and education are keys to helping us figure out how to restore a healthy ocean. The issues are complex but the more time I spend at sea, the more I realize that the solutions start on land.

There are ways to tackle the problem at every point-from source to ocean and from product design to waste management. But to solve these problems for the long term we need to turn off the tap. We need to work at the source. This upstream action is required across all sectors of society, working with designers in industry, policymakers at a governmental level and all of us as individual consumers.

If we want to continue to count on the ocean as a source of food, energy, transport and minerals for generations to come, we need to stem the flow of waste and devise more sustainable ways of using this vital resource. As I learned on my journey, we care most about things to which we feel connected. We urgently need more awareness of our blue planet to regain that connection and inspire action.

We care for what we love. We can only love what we know.

Notes

1       Earth Policy Institute, “Plastic bags fact sheet”, Available from http://www.earth-policy.org/images/uploads/press_room/Plastic_Bags.pdf

(uploaded October 2014).

2       Gaelle Gourmelon, “Global plastic production rises, recycling lags, Worldwatch Institute, 28 January 2015. Available from http://www. worldwatch.org/node/14576.

3       Jenna R. Jambeck and others,. Plastic waste inputs from land into the Ocean, Science, vol. 347, no. 6223 (13 February 2015), p.p. 768-771. Available from http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768.full.

4       United Nations Environment Programme, “UN declares war on ocean plastic”, 23 February 2017. Available from http://www.rona.unep.org/un-declares-war-ocean plastic.

5       Safe Planet: the United Nations Campaign for Responsibility on Hazardous Chemicals and Wastes, background note. Available from http://networking.pops.lnt/portals/O/VIvolndexltem/lndex2482JSafePlanet_Body_Burden_backgrounder_21apr2011_rev.pdf (accessed April 2017).

 

Author bio: Emily Penn is Ocean Advocate, Skipper and Co-founder of Pangea Exploration.

We Must Protect the Bounty and Beauty of the Sea

By Edward Norton

President John F. Kennedy, in a speech made at an event for the 1962 America’s Cup race crews, said, “I really don’t know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, except I think it is because in addition to the fact that the sea changes and the light changes, and ships change, it is because we all came from the sea. […] We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back from whence we came.”

I have a deep connection to the sea. In 30 years of diving reefs all over the world, from the Caribbean to the Tyrrhenian Seas, from the Pacific to the Indian Oceans, I have seen unimaginable beauty: astonishing abundance, a profusion of colour, and an array of biodiversity that seems only to be possible in the depths of one’s imagination. And yet, it was all true. Fishes, flora, and marine mammals were all connected in a world of irrepressible activity and mystifying tranquility.

Upon becoming a father, one of my greatest joys has been to share this wonder with my children. To my delight, they have taken to the water both naturally and joyfully. But to my deepest regret, I know that they will never see the abundance that I have seen, nor will they swim in waters as pristine as those that I have enjoyed. Apart from this being a tragic impoverishment of experience for them, it also represents a prospective global economic catastrophe.

How did we get here? As quoted by Elizabeth Kolbert in a piece in The New Yorker, the English biologist Thomas Huxley, in a speech delivered at the opening of the London International Fisheries Exhibition in 1883, posed the question: “Are fisheries exhaustible? That is to say, can all the fish which naturally inhabit a given area be extirpated by the agency of man?” In an answer that would be imponderable today, he maintained, “Probably all the great sea fisheries are inexhaustible; that is to say that nothing we do seriously affects the number of the fish” in the sea.1

Sadly, over the next hundred years, we have learned that nothing could have been further from the truth. Decades of industrial fishing, with subsidized fleets using sea trawling nets (and their attendant by-catch), has decimated the world’s fish stock. Marine ecosystems have been destroyed by an onslaught of land-based pollution, overfishing (including dynamite fishing), alien invasives, sea level rise, acidification, and finally, the increasingly severe and more frequent coral bleaching essentially driven by climate change and ocean warming. Despite our management efforts, the oceans are being depleted. We have worked our way through whales, tuna, salmon, cod, orange roughy, Patagonian toothfish and countless other species, as well as the creatures that depend on them. This includes us, and therefore, this is no longer merely a metaphysical problem. An estimated 1 billion people around the world depend on fish as their primary source of protein and on the ocean for their livelihoods.

At the same time, we have discovered that coral reefs, the marine equivalents of the tropical rainforests, are dying due to warming oceans. As documented recently by Damien Cave and Justin Gillis in the New York Times2 and by Terry P. Hughes and others in the journal Nature, an alarming portion of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest reef system, has died in the third worldwide coral bleaching episode since 1998.

The significance of this catastrophe cannot be underestimated, or understated. Hughes, the Director of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Townsville, Australia, and his colleagues have found that climate-change-induced warming sea temperatures-not other pressures) such as pollution or overfishing-was the driving force behind this massive coral die-off. The authors suggest that only a global effort in “curb future warming” can “secure a future for coral reefs.”3

As the United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity, I have travelled the world speaking to people about the defining challenge of our generation: bringing the way we live into a sustainable interaction with our planet. Paradoxically and tragically, while the need for global action on our climate has become more urgent, the political opposition we face from the new administration in Washington, D.C. has become more intense. Therefore, now more than ever, we must respect the conservation protocols, including community-managed coral reef and open ocean marine protected areas established by commitments made by countries under the Aichi Biodiversity Targets of the Convention on Biological Diversity, linked to the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals, especially Goal 14 on oceans. This is our last chance to help our oceans survive and recover their lost productivity, so that marine ecosystems can continue to provide food and livelihood security for even more than the one billion people who currently depend on the ocean’s bounty, and so our children can form the timeless bond with the seas that President Kennedy so movingly described over 50 years ago.

Notes

1       Quoted in Elizabeth Kolbert, “‘The scales fall: is there any hope for our overfished oceans?”, The New Yorker (2 August 2010).

2       Damien Cave and Justin Gillis, “Large sections of Australia’s great reef are now dead, scientists find”, New York Times, 15 March 2017.

3       Terry P. Hughes and others, “Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals”, Nature, vol. 543, no. 7654 (16 March 2017). pp. 373-377 (373).

Author bio:

Edward Norton is an acclaimed actor and three-time Academy Award nominee. As United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for Biodiversity, Mr. Norton works with the United Nations system and the Convention on Biological Diversity to advocate for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity and the advancement of sustainable development.

A Sea of Islands: How a Regional Group of Pacific States Is Working to Achieve SDG 14

By Dame Meg Taylor

THE PACIFIC OCEAN

The health of our oceans is fundamental to the health of our planet. Ninety-eight per cent of the area occupied by Pacific Island countries and territories is ocean. We sometimes refer to ourselves as Big Ocean Stewardship States in recognition of this geography. The Pacific Ocean is at the heart of our cultures and we depend on it for food, income, employment, transport and economic development.

There are tensions inherent in these relationships. The ocean unites and divides us. It connects and separates us, it sustains us and, at the same time, can be a threat to our very existence. These tensions have often encouraged us to work together for the good of our people. The ocean has been a catalyst for regionalism.

For decades, we have seen overfishing, the increasing burden of pollution, a warming of water temperatures and rising sea levels. These have profound, damaging effects on our ocean and its ecosystems. But we also see that the ocean has an incredible ability to adapt and regenerate if it is given the chance.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent an opportunity to address the urgent need to focus on the health, integrity and longevity of our world’s oceans. SDG 14—dealing with “life below water”—gives us hope that the ocean can sustain and provide for us as it always has. This requires rethinking the way we sustainably manage our oceanic resources. We recognize that there must be transformational change in attitude and behaviour. We must come together if we are to succeed as citizens, communities, governments and countries.

Progress towards SDG 14 will be more challenging than achieving almost any of the other goals, given that 70 per cent of our planet’s surface is ocean and the ecosystems within them are fundamental to life itself. We simply have no choice but to do better.

The Pacific Ocean is in us—it has long been a teacher for our people. For generations we have observed and respected its mana, sharing what we have learned from our ancestors with our children. In saying that, we recognize that our traditional knowledge can be complemented by the science and technology that offer new approaches to the sustainable management and conservation of our ocean, as we adapt to a rapidly changing environment. It is vital that we actively participate in and support the innovations and insights that are emerging.

Sustainable Management of Our Ocean

Not surprisingly, the Pacific Islands Forum, the premiere political grouping of Pacific island countries and territories, has demonstrated a longstanding commitment to managing our ocean. In fact, the United Nations Law of the Sea was a point of discussion during the historic first meeting of the Forum in 1971.1 Through the Forum, the Pacific region already has a collaborative and integrated ocean management system in place. The Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Policy2 promotes “sustainable development, management and conservation of marine and coastal resources in the Pacific region” through five guiding principles based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.3

The Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape4 catalyses regional action and initiatives covering an area of approximately 40 million square kilometres of ocean and island ecosystems. It strengthens the Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Policy, particularly through stronger provisions in the areas of coordination, resourcing and implementation. It also aspires to protect, manage and sustain the cultural and natural integrity of the ocean for present and future generations of the broader global community.5 At its heart is a desire to build pride, leadership, learning and cooperation across the ocean environment.

More recently, Forum Leaders issued the Palau Declaration on “The Ocean: Life and Future” (2014)6 and the Pohnpei Ocean Statement: A Course to Sustainability (2016).7 Both statements speak to the interconnections between the ocean and the lives of Pacific people, as well as our ongoing commitment to care for the ocean for our well-being.

The renewed focus on ocean policy, brought about through the pursuit of SDG 14, gives us a chance to continue to build on these existing guidelines and policy commitments.

The Pacific Ocean Commissioner

The Pacific Islands Forum sees a fundamental role for genuine, appropriate and durable partnerships for moving the ocean agenda forward. Recognizing that these partnerships must go beyond Governments, the Forum established the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner in 2014.

As the Commissioner, my responsibilities include the provision of high level representation and advocacy to Pacific Ocean priorities decisions and processes. My office works to unite Pacific countries and territories through strengthened coordination, collaboration and integration of cross-sectoral ocean issues, such as protecting biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction and zone-based management. The office also seeks to improve accountability by developing coordinated approaches to measurement and reporting, and undertakes analysis of the linkages between oceans and climate change, to ensure the Pacific region is well placed to meet the environmental challenges ahead.

Pacific Ocean Alliance

A key achievement of my term as the Pacific Ocean Commissioner has been the facilitation of the establishment of the Pacific Ocean Alliance. The Alliance is a network of private, public and civil sector representatives acting together to advance approaches to integrated ocean management.

It is an open-ended and voluntary information-sharing and coordination partnership between stakeholders with a genuine interest in the sustainable development, management and conservation of the Pacific Ocean and its resources. The Alliance provides a space and common ground to bring together national government agencies, regional, private sector, research and civil society organizations and communities not previously represented to work on ocean issues in a coordinated manner. The Alliance is a mechanism for inclusive consultation in the development and implementation of ocean policy, coordinating the provision of technical assistance and support as it relates to the sustainable development, management and conservation of the ocean for Pacific Island countries and territories.

Leadership in Ocean Management

I am proud of several noteworthy and demonstrable achievements that have been made in the Pacific through innovation and exemplary leadership. They include the effective, sustainable and economically rewarding strategic initiative of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement, a sub-regional grouping that has significantly increased the revenue earned by member countries by introducing the Vessel Day Scheme for purse seine fishing across their exclusive economic zones. This innovative fisheries management approach has been particularly successful in shifting the balance of power, control and influence, while demonstrating greater stewardship and sustainability.

The Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency oversees a world class regional monitoring, control and surveillance framework for our tuna fisheries. Operating out of the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Centre in Honiara in the Solomon Islands, the framework has been praised for its combination of tools, programs, assets and activities at the national and regional levels that achieve valuable results for its members.

Another regional example is the approach adopted by local communities to manage and sustainably use their coastal and marine areas, over which they have traditional or more recently assigned tenure rights or ownership. This is the mainstay of the work of Locally Managed Marine Area Network and national initiatives, such as those in Samoa and Tonga. The lessons from these experiences serve as valuable templates for the future sustainable use of ocean resources.

Facing Challenges Together

The ocean is dynamic and transcends borders. As such, it impacts almost all our development aspirations. In my mind, the Pacific is a blue continent. A sea of islands.

For us, the pursuit of SDG 14 has not just commenced. Decades of investment and learning in integrated ocean management have already taken place, and it is incumbent upon us all to ensure that communities share knowledge with their countries, and in turn, that countries share knowledge with their region, and regions share it with the world.

We have long known that more can be achieved when we face shared challenges together. The health and well­being of our ocean is an existential challenge that demands regional unity to address it. As Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare of Solomon Islands said, “we cannot manage the oceans but instead need to manage the behaviour of people who use the ocean”. This is ancient wisdom for us in the Pacific. I view the renewed focus and energy behind SDG 14 as a gift for teaching the world about the connectivity, complexity and value of the ocean. Everyone must come to understand that their behaviour will ultimately decide the fate of our oceans. For my people of the Pacific, our fate is immutably entwined with the health of our ocean.

 

Notes

1       Joint Final Communique: South Pacific Forum, Wellington, New Zealand, 5-7 August 1971, p. 3. Available from http://www.forumsec.org/resources/uploads/attachments/documents/1971%20Communique­Wellington%205-7%20Aug.pdf.

2       Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Policy and Framework for Integrated Strategic Action (Noumea-Cedex, New Caledonia, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, 2005). Available from http://www.forumsec.org/resources/uploads/attachments/documents/PIROP.pdf.

3       For further information, see the webpage of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. Available from http://www.forumsec.org/pages.cfm/strategic-partnerships-coordination/pacific-oceanscape/key-ocean­policies-declarations.html.

4       Cristelle Pratt and Hugh Govan, Our Sea of Islands, Our Livelihoods, Our Oceania. Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape: a Catalyst for Implementation of Ocean Policy (2010). Available from http://www.forumsec.org/resources/uploads/embeds/file/Oceanscape.pdf.

5       For further information, see the webpage of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat. Available from http://www.forumsec.org/pages.cfm/ strategic-partnerships-coordination/pacific-oceanscape/key-ocean­policies-declarations.html.

6       Palau Declaration on ‘The Ocean: Life and Future’, (2014). Available from http://www.forumsec.org/resources/uploads/attachments/ documents/AnnexB_Palau_Declaration_on_The_Ocean_Life_and_Future.pdf.

7       “Pohnpei ocean statement: a course to sustainability”, Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, 11 September 2016. Available from http://www.fsmpio.fm/announcements/forum/Annex3%20_A_Course_to_Sustainability.pdf.

 

Author bio: Dame Meg Taylor is Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum and Pacific Ocean Commissioner.

Marine Biodiversity and Ecosystems Underpin a Healthy Planet and Social Well-Being

By Cristiana Paşca Palmer

In no other realm is the importance of biodiversity for sustainable development more essential than in the ocean. Marine biodiversity, the variety of life in the ocean and seas, is a critical aspect of all three pillars of sustainable development—economic, social and environmental—supporting the healthy functioning of the planet and providing services that underpin the health, well­being and prosperity of humanity.

The ocean is one of the main repositories of the world’s biodiversity. It constitutes over 90 per cent of the habitable space on the planet and contains some 250,000 known species, with many more remaining to be discovered—at least two thirds of the world’s marine species are still unidentified.1

The ocean, and the life therein, are critical to the healthy functioning of the planet, supplying half of the oxygen we breathe2 and absorbing annually about 26 per cent of the anthropogenic carbon dioxide emitted into the atmosphere.3

Evidence continues to emerge demonstrating the essential role of marine biodiversity in underpinning a healthy planet and social well-being. The fishery and aquaculture sectors are a source of income for hundreds of millions of people, especially in low-income families, and contribute directly and indirectly to their food security. Marine ecosystems provide innumerable services for coastal communities around the world. For example, mangrove ecosystems are an important source of food for more than 210 million people4 but they also deliver a range of other services, such as livelihoods, clean water, forest products, and protection against erosion and extreme weather events.

Not surprisingly, given the resources that the ocean provides, human settlements have developed near the coast: 38 per cent of the world’s population lives within 100 km of the coast, 44 per cent within 150 km, 50 per cent within 200 km, and 67 per cent within 400 km.5 Roughly 61 per cent of the world’s total gross domestic product comes from the ocean and the coastal areas within 100 km of the coastline.6 Coastal population densities are 2.6 times larger than in inland areas and benefit directly and indirectly from the goods and services of coastal and marine ecosystems, which contribute to poverty eradication, sustained economic growth, food security and sustainable livelihoods and inclusive work, while hosting large biodiversity richness and mitigating the impacts of climate change.7

Thus, pressures that adversely impact marine biodiversity also undermine and compromise the healthy functioning of the planet and its ability to provide the services that we need to survive and thrive. Moreover, as demands on the ocean continue to rise, the continued provisioning of these services will be critical. The consequences of biodiversity loss are often most severe for the poor, who are extremely dependent on local ecosystem services for their livelihoods and are highly vulnerable to impacts on such services.

Concerns over the drastic declines in biodiversity are what initially motivated the development of the Convention on Biological Diversity. The Convention encompasses three complementary objectives: the conservation of biodiversity, the sustainable use of its components, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the utilization of genetic resources. With 196 Parties, participation in the Convention is nearly universal, a sign that our global society is well aware of the need to work together to ensure the survival of life on Earth.

The Convention also serves as a new biodiversity focal point for the entire United Nations system and a basis for other international instruments and processes to integrate biodiversity considerations into their work; as such, it is a central element of the global framework for sustainable development. The Convention’s Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011–2020 and its 20 Biodiversity Targets, adopted by the Parties to the Convention in Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture, Japan, in 2010, provide an effective framework for cooperation to achieve a future in which the global community can sustainably and equitably benefit from biodiversity without affecting the ability of future generations to do so.

The centrality of marine biodiversity to sustainable development was recognized in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in which global leaders highlighted the urgency of taking action to improve the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity. In particular, SDG 14 is aimed at conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development and emphasizes the strong linkages between marine biodiversity and broader sustainable development objectives. In fact, many elements of Goal 14 and a number of other SDGs reflect the same objectives and principles agreed upon under the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. Thus, efforts at different scales to achieve the Aichi Targets will directly contribute to implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving the SDGs.

Marine biodiversity and ecosystems are intrinsically connected to a wide range of services that are essential to sustainable development. These relationships are often complex and dynamic, and are influenced by feedback loops and synergistic effects. These outline the need to take an integrated and holistic approach to conservation and the sustainable use of marine biodiversity, based on the ecosystem and precautionary approaches, principles of inclusiveness and equity, and the need to deliver multiple benefits for ecosystems and communities.

Work under the Convention has evolved to reflect such an approach and to support Parties and relevant organizations in implementing the Convention, notably through national biodiversity strategies and action plans, and through policies, programmes and measures across different sectors that both affect and rely on biodiversity.

This work takes a thematic approach focused on (a) understanding the ecological and biological value of the ocean; (b) addressing the impacts of pressures and threats on marine and coastal biodiversity; (c) facilitating the application of tools for applying the ecosystem approach for conservation and sustainable use; (d) building capacity to put in place the enabling conditions for implementation; and (e) mainstreaming biodiversity into sectors.

Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, a global process for the description of ecologically or biologically significant marine areas (EBSAs) has served to enhance understanding of the ecological and biological value of marine areas in nearly all of the world’s ocean regions. This work serves as an important foundation for conservation and management, and creates the enabling conditions to further enhance and utilize this knowledge by catalysing scientific networking and partnerships at the regional level. It also helps to identify gaps in knowledge and to prioritize monitoring and research activities in support of the application of the ecosystem approach.8

Parties have also prioritized the need to address key pressures on marine biodiversity, including unsustainable fishing practices, marine debris and anthropogenic underwater noise, as well as climate change and ocean acidification. The secretariat, Parties to the Convention, other Governments and relevant organizations work with scientists and experts to synthesize best available knowledge on the effects of major pressures/stressors, and produce consolidated guidance on means to prevent and mitigate adverse impacts of these pressures.

Through expert workshops, publications and engagement with other relevant processes, the Convention on Biological Diversity has generated guidelines for the development and application of the ecosystem approach, including through area­based measures, such as marine spatial planning and marine and coastal protected areas, as well as biodiversity-inclusive environmental impact and strategic environmental assessments, integrating different sectoral policy measures to address various pressures on the biological and ecological values of the ocean.

Capacity-building to support implementation is also a central focus of the Convention on Biological Diversity. One of the tools for this is the Sustainable Ocean Initiative, a global partnership framework coordinated by the Convention secretariat, together with various United Nations entities and international partner organizations. The Initiative builds on existing efforts, resources and experiences by enhancing partnerships, disseminating lessons learned and knowledge gained, and facilitating improved coordination among sectors and stakeholder groups. It does this across multiple scales in order to create the enabling conditions needed for improved on-the-ground implementation. The Sustainable Ocean Initiative Global Dialogue with Regional Seas Organizations and Regional Fisheries Bodies on Accelerating Progress Towards the Aichi Biodiversity Targets works to facilitate cross-sectoral regional-scale dialogue and coordination.9

Parties have also prioritized the mainstreaming of biodiversity considerations into economic sectors that both affect and rely on healthy marine ecosystems for sustainable economic growth. Mainstreaming was at the forefront of the Convention on Biological Diversity at the recent United Nations Biodiversity Conference, held in Cancun, Mexico, in December 2016. Ministers of environment, fisheries and tourism, among others, at the high-level segment of the Conference expressed their commitment, through the adoption of the Cancun Declaration, to work at all levels within Governments and across sectors to mainstream biodiversity in sectoral development. In this vein, the Convention secretariat has worked closely over the years with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, regional fishery bodies and other stakeholders to support enhanced implementation by the Parties to the Convention to better mainstream biodiversity into the fisheries and aquaculture sectors.

If we are to achieve the SDGs and the Aichi Biodiversity Targets, we will have to abandon business-as-usual approaches and mainstream biodiversity into our development planning, governance and decision-making. We will have to mobilize resources to make the on-the-ground changes that are so desperately needed. Furthermore, stakeholders at all levels will need to be conscious of how their actions and behaviours affect the marine ecosystems on which we all depend, and make conscious decisions to improve our relationships with the ocean, which has given us so much throughout human history.

The forthcoming Ocean Conference, to be held at the United Nations in New York from 5 to 9 June 2017, represents a momentous opportunity to build the necessary political will and put in place the enabling conditions to foment enhanced implementation at all levels with the inclusion of all stakeholders in order to realize a future of healthy and productive marine biodiversity that supports societal well-being. In line with the principles of intergenerational equity, we must also recognize the right of future generations to inherit a planet thriving with life, and to reap the economic, cultural and spiritual benefits of a healthy ocean.

Notes

1       For further information, see the Census of Marine life website:

http://coml.org.

2       The First Global Integrated Marine Assessment (World Ocean Assessment I) (United Nations, 2016). Available from http://www.un.org/depts/los/global_reporting/WOA_RegProcess.htm.

3       Corinne Le Quere and others, “Global carbon budget 2015”, Earth System Science Data, Vol. 7, No. 2 (December 2015), 349-396 (371).

4       Mark Spalding, Robert D. Brumbaugh and Emily Landis, Atlas of Ocean Wealth (Arlington, VA, The Nature Conservancy, 2016), p. 14.

5       Christopher Small and Joel E. Cohen, “Continental physiography, climate, and the global distribution of Human Population”, Current Anthropology Vol. 45, No. 2 (April 2004), 269-277 (272).

6       Paulo A.L.D. Nunes and Andrea Ghermandi, The economics of marine ecosystems: reconciling use and conservation of coastal and marine systems and the underlying natural capital, Environmental and Resource Economics, Vol. 56, No.4 (October 2013), 459-465 (460).

7       Ibid.

8       For further information on ecologically or biologically significant marine areas, see https://www.cbd.int/ebsa/.

9       For further information on the Sustainable Ocean Initiative, see https://www.cbd.int/soi/.

Author bio:

Cristiana Paşca Palmer is Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Can We Save Coral Reefs?

By Carrie Manfrino

The United Nations has reported that 70 per cent of the Earth’s coral reefs are threatened: 20 per cent have already been destroyed with no hope for recovery, 24 per cent are under imminent risk of collapse, and an additional 26 per cent are at risk due to longer-term threats.1 Coastal ecosystem degradation is especially problematic, as 40 per cent (3.1 billion) of the world’s population lives within 100 kilometres of the ocean, which means that massive losses to coral reef ecosystems are also an economic and social issue.2 Reef structures protect coastal communities from storm waves, provide sand for beaches and generate enormous recreational revenue for local businesses. Coral reefs also serve as the twenty-first century’s medicine cabinet. Myriad organisms, including sponges, corals and sea hares, contain molecules that express potent anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, anti-tumour and/or anti-bacterial effects. New treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, viruses and inflammation are being developed from these molecules. The collapse of coral reefs has far-reaching implications for the entire ocean, for people and, indeed, for the planet. Going forward, the focus must be on how to conserve what is left, ideally taking bold, decisive steps to reverse the unthinkable trajectory. Such solutions will require innovations and partnerships that can spearhead the societal-level change needed to halt the damage to coral reefs and reverse the downward trend in their health and survival.

Time is not on our side, but the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development outlines a plan for the future protection of the ocean. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) bring a sharper focus on the economic, social and cultural ramifications of major declines in fish populations, coral reef ecosystems and coastal erosion due to sea level rise and poor management.3 For instance, SDG 14 describes the need to reduce marine pollution; regulate the harvesting of fish; and end overfishing, unregulated fishing and destructive fishing practices to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible. The goal is to sustainably manage and protect at least 10 per cent of marine and coastal ecosystems by 2020, and to strengthen their resilience and take action for their restoration.

With 70 per cent of coral reefs already gone or threatened, however, greater levels of protection will be required to potentially compensate for the increasing stress brought on by climate change. Corals turn white and ‘bleach’ as symbiotic algae are essentially expelled from the animal when stressed. Prolonged periods of higher-than-normal sea surface temperature have led to global coral mortality, events that climate models predict will only become more frequent.4 Some studies show that managed, no-take marine reserves with 50 per cent of the reefs under protection are not immune to warming seas but are capable of recovering.5 Unfortunately, the most current episode of bleaching on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef illuminates how climate change, driven fundamentally by anthropogenic carbon emissions, is destroying this critical marine ecosystem despite protection, even in locations far removed from human populations.6 The 2015 Paris Agreement, adopted at the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 21), was heralded as a new dawn that could mitigate the consequences of climate change to humankind but not for coral reefs. For the reefs to survive, however, confronting climate change impacts must be front and centre for any other proffered solutions to make a difference. What other avenues are there to tackle this complex problem? Consider the following extra-governmental paradigm: public-private collaborations.

“RETHINKING THE FUTURE FOR CORAL REEFS” SYMPOSIUM

In June 2016, an influential cross section of coral reef scientists and social scientists, foundation leaders, non­governmental organization directors, policymakers and interested members of the general public gathered in London for the International Symposium on “Rethinking the Future for Coral Reefs”. The Symposium was led by His Royal Highness Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, the founding patron of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI). CCMI is a non-governmental coral reef education and research organization, with a bustling facility on Little Cayman, Cayman Islands. Supported largely by private funds, the organization has navigated partnerships with local schools so that every Caymanian child can be ocean literate by the time they reach 12 years of age.

The goal of the Symposium was to establish a dialogue among experts from the public and private sectors with broad perspectives on what steps could lead to a healthy future for coral reefs. The focus was on the need for a more progressive, ambitious and innovative approach to both provide immediate protection and prevent further losses. The agreement, disagreement, surprises and outcomes from the Symposium can be summarized in the context of COP 21 and SDG 14. The major conclusion was that solutions for protecting the future for coral must rapidly transcend social, economic and cultural boundaries. The emissions goals set in Paris at COP 21 would lead to temperature increases by 2030 that would be devastating for coral reefs.7 Furthermore, the SDG 14 recommendations may need to consider more specifically the level of reef destruction already in progress due to climate change and direct human impacts.

Increasing the size of protected areas and removing detrimental impacts require dealing with human issues that lie beyond the borders of protected areas. Conservation relies on strong governance that is often overshadowed by private interests. Changing human behaviour and the conditions that influence behaviour, including poverty and the effects of globalization, would be a necessary first step in many areas.8 Teaching sustainable fishing, and providing opportunities for renewable energy and ecotourism are strategies that have successfully increased the rates of employment and improved sanitation while decreasing poverty, malnutrition and pollution. Longer-term solutions should enhance the status of women in developing countries who significantly support marine fisheries and aquaculture by providing access to jobs in those countries.

Top-down governance strategies could be more persuasive if attention was given to assuring positive community perception about the effectiveness of protection. Good governance could effectively reduce overfishing, stop anchor damage and remove direct human impacts so long as the human issues and community perception are included as elements of the plan.9

Coral restoration through farming or transplanting has often been mentioned as a possible solution for reefs in crisis, but it is not likely to be a serious remedy until the original stressors that led to the demise of corals is removed. Destructive harvesting and extraction, as seen recently in the South China Sea, must stop. Ending the practice of releasing waste and sewage into coastal waters, which result in algal blooms, would be needed. Halting unplanned coastal development, which reduces the productivity of corals due to increased sedimentation, would play a significant role in reversing the decline of reefs in some locations. The Symposium’s findings and recommendations are offered below, both on their merits and as an example of a productive public-private collaboration.

SUMMARY FROM THE “RETHINKING THE FUTURE FOR CORAL REEFS” SYMPOSIUM

  • The pace of coral reef decline is even faster than current trajectories by at least a decade.
  • Reefs of the future will be remarkably different in structure and composition than reefs today.
  • The 2030 Agenda’s SDG 14 target to conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas should be higher for coral reefs, considering that cumulatively 70 per cent of reefs are threatened.
  • Climate impacts on coral reefs, in particular the rapid increases in sea surface temperatures, would kill large areas of reefs that would not be capable of recovering fast enough before further high-temperature events took place.
  • The Paris Agreement goals adopted at COP 21 to reduce carbon emissions are inadequate. Reefs would disappear before these goals were achieved.
  • The collapse of coral reefs has far-reaching implications for the entire ocean and for people, as reefs are considered sentinel ecosystems that protect coastal communities.
  • Public engagement with coral reefs in crisis is woefully low, especially by comparison with many other environmental crises.
  • Societal-level changes are needed in order for coral reef ecosystems to continue functioning.
  • It was noted that activists and campaigners often targeted ministries of environment when proposing action aimed at protection, when it was often more effective to engage ministries of finance or of development, which have greater power and access to resources.

NEXT STEPS FROM THE SYMPOSIUM

  • Immediate global action to reduce future warming above COP 21 goals is fundamental to coral reef survival.
  • Establish a high-profile movement that makes way for a shift in societal behaviour to reduce adverse impacts on coral reefs and adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.
  • Establish an advocacy group and coalition with select entities to advocate and increase awareness, and undertake actions that will produce relevant solutions for a particular region. Focus on the diverse issues of particular regions.
  • Engage leaders of industry, Heads of State, and ministries of finance in the discussion so as to educate, inform and expand the dialogue.
  • Be proactive when relevant issues impacting coral reef health attract media or governmental attention.
  • Become engaged as scientists in the climate discussion and push for faster reductions in emissions.
  • Explore new, innovative, scalable solutions that traverse the scientific disciplines, including management and policy solutions, and expand the dialogue and awareness of the issues and solutions.

CONCLUSION

With estimates that coral reefs are among the most threatened ecosystems on Earth, the dire need for societal-level changes to reduce human impacts on coral reef ecosystems is no longer a debate. The achievement of SDG 14 by 2030 could help improve ocean resources, to be sure. Actions that protect top predators, identify key herbivorous fish species for protection, halt destructive fishing, boating and diving, and manage exploitation of reef fish cannot hurt. Nevertheless, much more aggressive action and education from the top down to grassroots efforts to achieve a carbon-neutral planet are required to protect coral reefs; otherwise, we’re just whistling past Davy Jones’ locker.

Notes

1       United Nations Department of Public Information, “Life below water: why it matters”, 2016. Available from http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/14_Why-it-Matters_Goal-14_Life-Below-Water_3p.pdf.

2       Biliana Cicin-Sain, “Goal 14-Conserve and Sustainably Use Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources for Sustainable Development”, UN Chronicle, vol. Ll No.4 (2014). Available from https://unchronicle.un.org/article/goal-14-conserve-and-sustainably-use-oceans-seas-and-marine­resources-sustainable.

3       United Nations Department of Public Information, “Life below water:

why it matters”.

4       Reuben Van Hooidonk and others “Local-scale projections of coral reef futures and implications of the Paris agreement”, Scientific Reports, vol. 6 (2016).

5       Carrie Manfrino and others, “A positive trajectory for corals at Little Cayman Island”, PLOS One, vol. 8, No.10:e75432 (2013).

6       Terry P. Hughes and others “Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals”, Nature, vol.543, No. 7645 (2017), pp. 373-377.

7       ISRS Consensus Statement on Climate Change and Coral Bleaching, October 2015, prepared for the 21st Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Paris, December 2015. Available from http://coralreefs.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/ISRS-Consensus-Statement-on-Coral Bleaching-Ciimate-Change-FINAL-140ct2015-HR.pdf; Van Hooidonk and others “Local-scale projections of coral reef futures and implications of the Paris agreement”. Hughes and others “Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals”.

8       Joshua E. Cinner and others, “Bright spots among the world’s coral reefs”, Nature, vol. 535, No. 7612 (2016), pp. 416-419.

9       Rachel A. Turner and others, “Trust, confidence, and equity affect the legitimacy of natural resource governance”, Ecology and Society, vol. 21, No.3 (2016).

Author bio: Carrie Manfrino is President and Director of Research and Conservation at the Central Caribbean Marine Institute, Little Cayman, Cayman Islands.

Portugal and the Ocean Economy

By Ana Paula Vitorino

Today, our world is facing the challenge of understanding and living through the Anthropocene. Although this epoch is not yet officially recognized, it is increasingly accepted that we are in a special subdivision of the geological timescale, one in which human activity has a direct impact on our planet in terms of climate and the availability of natural resources.

The global competition for the exploitation of natural resources to sustain current models of development originated in the recognition of the ocean as an extension of mainland territories. If for centuries the maritime space was regarded as one of mobility—a highway to other spaces—today ‘terrestrial’ concepts are being applied to the ocean.

This change is connected to an increase in knowledge about the sea and its resources, as well as the technological advances that have facilitated the exploration of the ocean. The public order of the oceans, which incorporates a substantial territorial component based on a clear division between national sovereignty and jurisdiction and the freedoms of the high seas beyond current maritime borders, served the circumstances of its time well, providing the stability and legal certainty necessary for the economy of the sea to develop and prosper.

As we now know, however, by the time that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) entered into force in 1994, a number of challenges that threaten the oceans and marine resources were becoming more visible and better understood, and were in part detached from the idea of territory and sovereignty. UNCLOS provides ways to respond to environmental problems with respect to the world’s oceans and allows us to incorporate those approaches into decision­making processes. It also gives us tools to manage such issues so that solutions beyond the national borders of each coastal State can be reached. The foundations laid down by the Convention, however, are not sufficient to respond to emerging global threats. Examples such as ocean acidification, marine pollution, the depletion of fish stocks and degradation of marine ecosystems are impossible to address and resolve solely from the viewpoint of national sovereignty and maritime jurisdiction. We need a holistic, shared approach to sustainably manage our oceans.

This is why Portugal is fully committed to working towards a new UNCLOS implementation agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction. The new agreement should reflect the best science available, and the decision-making processes set out in the agreement should incorporate this concern. We should recognize the contribution that such an agreement can and should make to the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14 of the 2030 Agenda, which deals with oceans, and to halting and reversing the decline in ocean health.

For historical, cultural and economic reasons, the ocean has shaped the lives of the Portuguese people and the ways in which we relate to others and belong to the international community. As a maritime country, the ocean is a fundamental and formative element of our identity. In support of the objective to promote and strengthen the global governance of the oceans based on a holistic and collaborative approach, the Government of Portugal created, in 2015, the Ministry of the Sea, responsible for the coordination of maritime affairs, the promotion of a sustainable ocean economy, and the formation and monitoring of ocean policies based on scientific knowledge, innovation and technological development.

The Ministry plays a cross-cutting role, coordinating several issues and the work of corresponding institutions that have traditionally depended on other sectorial ministries. These institutions support planning and knowledge related to the oceans, as well as the implementation of policies for the protection and exploitation of marine resources; the promotion of an effective presence in the sea and its uses; a sustainable sea economy; and the coordination of national participation in European and international bodies responsible for the design and monitoring of maritime policies.

The maritime areas under national sovereignty or jurisdiction—the territorial sea, the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the continental shelf, extended within the scope of the proposal presented by the Government of Portugal to the United Nations in 2009—constitute one of the main assets for the future development of the country. The biological, genetic, mineral and energy resources that these areas contain open prospects for exploration that can establish Portugal as a model for economic growth and, above all, as a protector of marine biodiversity. Moreover, Portugal is a pioneer in the preservation of special marine ecosystems outside its EEZ, such as the hydrothermal vents in the Azores, on which Portugal reports to the network of marine protected areas established by the Commission of the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic (the OSPAR Commission).

Within this national context, it is important to address the challenge of balancing environmental protection and economic growth. In our opinion, technological and business innovation can reconcile the protection of marine biodiversity and the rights of sovereign States, including economic rights. For Portugal, innovation and the transfer of knowledge and expertise from the science and technology sectors to civil society paves the way for the world’s populations to have a more sustainable relationship with the marine environment, with a more efficient use of resources resulting in less impact.

Knowledge is an engine that can change the potential of Portugal’s geostrategic position in the following areas:

  1. The creation of added value in traditional economic activities, such as fisheries and port activity, enhancing the circular bioeconomy, avoiding the waste of resources and reconverting industrial waste. This refers specifically to the maximization of the use of sea life already caught, thereby reducing levels of catches, or the collection of marine litter, which can be recycled and reconverted into new products.
  2. New sources of sustainable growth provided by a set of emerging activities, from biotechnology to renewable ocean energy.
  3. The use of tools for the planning, monitoring and management of marine spaces to ensure the sustainable use of resources. Portugal is also in a position to assume a relevant role in the use of marine protected areas as an efficient mechanism for the management of specific marine ecosystems. Our short-term goal is to protect 10 per cent of our marine spaces.

In this respect we must assume a paradigm shift. We no longer want to simply monitor impacts; we will pursue a precautionary approach to avoid undertaking activities that could adversely affect the ocean.

In order to achieve all of this, we must also exercise our sovereignty.

Therefore, we want to:

  1. Ensure an effective presence in our seas through adequate defence, security and inspection capacities that integrate ships, aircraft and modern surveillance systems; support the observance of law, order and human security, defending the public interest in the maritime search and rescue zones under national jurisdiction or in partnerships; issue licences and regulate concessions of economic activities in maritime areas under national sovereignty or jurisdiction.
  2. Promote ocean literacy, a key element for raising awareness among the Portuguese population about the importance of the ocean in our daily lives and for teaching new generations about the benefits that oceanic ecosystems provide for society, through the inclusion of specific content in school curricula and sea activities in school sports programmes, as well as outreach programmes for adults.
  3. Promote sea management and the protection of natural capital and marine ecosystem resources by establishing priorities for action that preserve and enhance such capital through an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas, based on sound management plans that contribute to their valorization within the scope of the ocean economy.

For this to succeed it is essential to generate and manage knowledge on the tremendous resources of our oceans and seas. This requires a strategic investment in marine scientific research, which in the medium to long term will enable rapid and sustainable growth. The enhanced knowledge of ocean resources in the biological, biotechnological, geological, mineral, and energy fields will establish Portugal as a strategic partner in the international community. The Government is, therefore, determined to invest in generating knowledge about Portuguese seas as a strategic asset.

This commitment to ocean knowledge is aimed at fostering the national marine science and technology sectors as generators of highly qualified human capital and high-quality know-how, as well as establishing an international reputation that will allow us to introduce innovation in products and processes of the marine environment sector. Such a commitment is essential to ocean governance, as well as to further development of the national economy of the sea. Thus, knowledge about the seas and oceans will promote their sustainability. This approach will allow Portugal to compete in areas such as marine biotechnology, providing an opportunity for the creation of new and innovative pharmaceutical and medical applications; off­shore technologies, including underwater robotics, floating ocean structures and offshore platforms; and ocean monitoring systems and supercomputing modelling, which will enable continuous monitoring of the environmental state of the ocean and the impacts of human activity and climate change.

Portugal’s approach to the ocean economy corresponds with the major issues currently under discussion at the international level, such as marine genetic resources access and benefit-sharing; marine spatial management tools, including marine protected areas; environmental impact assessments; and capacity development and implementation of innovative technology. These issues are at the core of the country’s vision for a sustainable and equitable use of the ocean.

I will have the opportunity to discuss this and other issues at the Ocean Conference in New York in June 2017. I also invite everyone to the Oceans Meeting, to be held in Lisbon from 7 to 8 September 2017 under the theme “The Ocean and Human Health”. At the meeting, we intend to establish a common vision on the positive and negative effects that the oceans have on human physical and mental health.

We must all be aware of our dependence on the oceans on all levels, and we must act to ensure the sustainability of oceans now and for future generations.

Author bio: Ana Paula Vitorino is Minister of the Sea, Portugal.

Mobilizing the Global Community to Achieve SDG 14

By Amina J. Mohammed

One of the most intellectually engaging, politically challenging and personally gratifying periods of my life was the time I spent as an adviser to former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, working with Member States and people across the world to articulate the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Adopted by world leaders at a moving ceremony in 2015, this landmark plan, encapsulated in 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), points the way towards a future of dignity, prosperity and peace for all. At this still-early stage in our efforts to seize the Agenda’s potential and fulfil its promises, I am deeply honoured to have been asked by current Secretary-General António Guterres to serve as his Deputy, and thereby to again serve the world’s people in this essential work.

I know from the economy and experiences of my own country, Nigeria, that the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources is integral to the 2030 Agenda and its goals to end extreme poverty and hunger, and to promote peaceful and sustainable social and economic development for all nations. With oceans now near or at the limit of their ability to provide for human needs and remain viable ecosystems, only the United Nations can mobilize the type of transformative action needed at the global, regional and national level to reverse this trend.

In many coastal developing countries and small island developing States, maintaining and restoring the health and resilience of coastal and marine ecosystems, such as mangroves and coral reefs, are vital for protection from natural hazards such as extreme storms and sea level rise. They are also essential for promoting food security, protecting livelihoods and safeguarding broader economic development. Marine fisheries provide jobs for 300 million people and help meet the nutritional needs of 3 billion people. The role of fisheries is particularly profound in many of the world’s poorest communities, where fish are a critical source of protein, essential micronutrients and omega-3 fatty acids. The fishing sector provides a social safety net, particularly for women, who are a majority in secondary activities related to marine fisheries and marine aquaculture, such as fish processing and marketing.

The oceans are also experiencing major stress from climate change. Globally, the sea level has risen by 20 centimetres since the start of the twentieth century, due mostly to thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers and ice caps. Some regions are experiencing even greater sea level rise. General warming trends, massive episodes of coral bleaching, acidification and the sea level rise are affecting eco­systems in all regions, threatening fisheries, food chains and the oceans’ ability to act as efficient carbon sinks. Warmer temperatures are causing more extreme weather events, and a projected two-metre rise in sea levels by the end of the century would be catastrophic for coastal habitats and economies. Hundreds of millions of people are at risk.

Here, too, the situation in Nigeria offers a vivid example of the threat. The coastline is vital for the people of Lagos State and the Niger Delta, who make up 19 per cent of Nigeria’s population and face high vulnerability due to poverty, population rise, urbanization, water pollution and poor health, sanitation and land use. Lagos, in particular, is at a risk of coastal erosion and inundation. While some degree of erosion occurs naturally, human activities, such as the construction of ports and oil production facilities, the damming of rivers and sand mining, are aggravating the danger. The Niger Delta, which contributes 35 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product and 90 per cent of export revenue, is experiencing extensive biodiversity loss, deforestation, overfishing and a loss of spawning grounds due to the destruction of mangroves. Oil spills continue to devastate the oceans and rivers.

These examples illustrate that the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources goes far beyond the need for mitigation and adaptation to climate impacts. It must encompass all ocean-related activities, including fisheries and aquaculture, land-based sources of pollution, tourism, transportation and new ocean-based industries such as offshore renewable energy and marine biotechnology. All the challenges to the oceans are of humanity’s making; all can be reversed by our concerted, coordinated action. That is the object of SDG 14 and all the interrelated Goals.

The United Nations and its specialized agencies are already assisting developing countries to work towards the interrelated targets of SDG 14. The key to this work is harmonizing economic development and ocean health. We cannot continue, let alone accelerate, the changes we are causing to ocean ecosystems. That is why the United Nations system is working with Governments and international private sector and civil society organizations to strengthen governance structures and promote the implementation of international legal instruments and various management tools, such as integrated coastal zone management and marine spatial planning, and to facilitate a coordinated approach to the application of law and policies for environmental protection and sustainable economic development.

Looking ahead, four steps are especially important.

First, mobilizing high-level leadership and political will and facilitating the creation of partnerships. The forthcoming Ocean Conference, which will take place from 5 to 9 June 2017 at United Nations Headquarters in New York, will put a much-needed spotlight on all relevant issues. It will enable stakeholders to register concrete commitments. The gathering is also a platform to educate all actors about the international legal framework that governs seas and oceans, and the tools and methodologies needed for their sustainable use and conservation. It will be particularly important to promote sustainable consumption and production patterns, especially relating to fisheries, and incentivize market-based mechanisms to reduce waste and pollution.

Second, translating the political will expressed in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into funding commitments for capacity-building. The United Nations is already working with Governments on deploying innovative financial instruments such as blue bonds, insurance and debt-for-adaptation swaps. In conjunction with grant­funding entities, such as the Global Environment Facility, the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund, resources are needed to improve the governance of marine environments and resources, and to promote economic diversification, job creation, food security, poverty reduction and sustainable economic development.

Third, deepening the knowledge base. Better scientific and economic data and information are needed to understand the impacts and environmental costs of human activities on the oceans, the socioeconomic impacts of ocean decline on human well-being, and the synergies and trade-offs between different policies. These will be provided by various reports and assessments, such as the forthcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on Oceans and the Cryosphere, and the Regular Process for Global Reporting and Assessment of the State of the Marine Environment, Including Socioeconomic Aspects. I also welcome the contribution of the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data to fill critical data gaps and ensure that data is accessible and usable. It is essential that we harness the growing potential of big data to identify and address risks in real time. Data are the lifeblood of decision­making and the raw material for accountability. They can complement and strengthen traditional statistics and move the world onto a path of information equality, where all citizens, organizations and Governments have the right information, at the right time, and make good decisions that can improve people’s lives.

Fourth, sharing best practices and experiences. Many of the most innovative solutions are local, ranging from managed marine areas to collective fisheries management undertaken by cooperatives. While not all can be scaled up, some may have broader relevance. Different cultures and knowledge systems, including traditional knowledge, can provide new perspectives for innovation and for understanding key sustainability issues, such as intergenerational responsibility. It will also be crucial to educate young people about the fragility of the marine environment and its importance for sustainable development.

Sustaining the integrity of marine ecosystems will require a profound transformation in how humanity views and uses these fragile, finite and irreplaceable resources. But, if we follow the guidance of the 2030 Agenda and invest wisely in sustainable development, we can maintain and improve the quality of life that seas, oceans and marine resources provide to humankind.

In the several years that I have now been involved in shaping and implementing the 2030 Agenda, I have seen the critical role the United Nations plays in bringing people together, providing a forum for discussion and contributing authoritative data, analysis and policy options. And in the time I spent recently as Nigeria’s Minister of Environment, I saw not only the needs dose-up, but the readiness of people to contribute to problem-solving for their communities and for the world. That spirit, along with a supportive United Nations, can achieve great progress. I look forward to working with partners everywhere to set people and planet—including our precious oceans and seas—on a path to a sustainable future.

Author bio: Amina J. Mohammed is Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Protecting Small Island Developing States from Pollution and the Effects of Climate Change

By Ahmed Sareer

There are few more powerful symbols of the international community’s shared past and future than the ocean. From the earliest human migrations, it carried our ancestors to new continents, brought civilizations together, and opened the world to exploration and trade. It also connects us ecologically. Numerous fish species swim across territorial waters to spawn and feed, supporting billion-dollar fisheries and countless livelihoods. Most importantly, the ocean is the central force in regulating the global climate that sustains us all. In fact, scientists have shown that since the onset of the industrial age, the oceans have borne the brunt of consequences from excessive burning of fossil fuels, absorbing carbon dioxide emissions and the majority of the heat generated from global warming.

But even the vast ocean has its limits. All that CO2 has turned it more acidic, effectively dissolving corals and shellfish and profoundly altering critical habitats and marine resources. At the same time, sea surface temperatures are the highest they have been in millions of years, and there is now evidence warming is occurring much deeper than previously anticipated. New research suggests that by acting as a temperature sink, the oceans have prevented catastrophic temperature rise on land. A 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature report called soaring ocean temperatures the “greatest hidden challenge of our generation.”1 “Hidden” because beneath the waves, warming has affected all marine life, from the smallest microbes to the largest whales, setting the stage for a precipitous collapse and putting “key human sectors […] at threat, especially fisheries, aquaculture, coastal risk management, health and coastal tourism.”2 This threat is particularly acute for small island developing States (SIDS). We are still highly dependent on marine resources for food and income, and need vibrant ocean habitats for our tourism businesses. We are also vulnerable to rising sea levels driven by global warming, which not only threaten our coastal infrastructure, but could also render our islands uninhabitable if left unchecked.

For these reasons, the Maldives and many other SIDS, often known as large ocean States, were some of the strongest proponents of Sustainable Development Goal 14 in the 2030 Agenda.

SDG 14 comprises a number of targets designed to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” It also recognizes that meeting these targets will be difficult if not impossible if we do not limit the greenhouse gas emissions that lie behind so many problems.

Indeed, SIDS have also led the world in efforts to implement SDG 14, from our ambitious efforts to cut emissions to sustainable development projects that help us adapt to life in a warming world. Consider SIDS work to establish marine protected areas (MPAs) that benefit millions upon millions of people who depend on healthy marine systems for food and income around the world.

Beginning in 2004, for example, the Maldives worked with the United Nations to establish the Baa Atoll Biosphere Reserve. It was selected because of its remarkable biodiversity and potential to demonstrate the economic benefits of conservation. In just a short period of time, the atolls have shown remarkable resilience against warming waters compared to other habitats.

In the Caribbean, the MPAs of Grenada are living evidence of how protecting essential fish habitat pays long­term benefits by raising the productivity of commercially valuable stocks.

Elsewhere, in the Pacific, Palau, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia have devoted a significant amount of their waters to MPAs, safeguarding sharks, turtles and critical spawning grounds for countless species. They have also worked tirelessly to call attention to the problem of plastics pollution, which poses a severe threat to marine life and the human communities it sustains on land.

Still, even as we work to protect and restore marine environments, islands have been forced to make large investments to protect our shores from severe climate change impacts such as erosion and rising seas. In the Maldives, we have been forced to climate-proof infrastructure, including wharfs, roads, sea walls and sanitation. These projects are extremely costly and divert resources away from other priorities such as public health and education. Other SIDS have had to reimagine their development futures in the face of the uncertainties that stem from climate change and ocean degradation.

One thing is for sure: just as the impacts of overfishing, pollution and climate change are global, so too are the solutions. Protecting the ocean for present and future generations requires all countries to fulfil the commitments made to support the means of implementation of the 2030 Agenda and cut emissions. Like the ocean, SDG 14 must bring us together again.

Notes

 

1       Dan Laffoley and John M. Baxter, eds., Explaining Ocean Warming: Causes, Scale, Effects and Consequences (Gland, Switzerland, International Union for Conservation of Nature, 2016), p. 8. Available from: https://portals.iucn.org/library/sites/library/files/documents/2016-046_0.pdf.

2       Ibid., p. 50.

 

Author bio: Ahmed Sareer is Permanent Representative of the Republic of Maldives to the United Nations.

Protecting the Coral Sea-the Cradle to the Great Barrier Reef

By Adele Pedder

The world’s oceans are facing increasing challenges, with threats posed by climate change, pollution and overfishing. In the light of these challenges it is becoming increasingly important to set aside large areas of our ocean to allow ecosystems to operate in their natural state. Globally, more and more nations are relying on marine protected areas and reserves to give their regions of our blue planet a fighting chance.

Australia has a lot at stake as steward of the world’s third-largest marine territory and some of the most diverse marine life on Earth. Our continent rises from the junction of three major oceans and contains tropical, temperate and subantarctic ecosystems, with much of our marine life found nowhere else. Historically, Australia has led the way in global marine conservation. In the 1980s, we created the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and in 2012, we announced what would have become the world’s largest representative national network of marine parks and sanctuaries. This network boasted 60 large marine parks around the nation’s coastline, with the primary objective being biodiversity conservation.

The declaration of the formation of the marine reserve network was overwhelmingly endorsed by the Australian public. It followed 15 years of advocacy, scientific research and consultation, and more than a decade of work by consecutive Governments from both major parties. The marine reserve system went through six rounds of public consultations, with over three quarters of a million people providing submissions—95 per cent in favour of greater protection for Australian maritime zones.

The network includes about a third of Australian offshore Commonwealth waters, with 14 per cent designated as highly protected sanctuary zones. While still falling short of the World Parks Congress recommendation of protecting 20-30 per cent of marine and coastal areas in sanctuary zones, it was a significant increase from the previous 4 per cent.

Despite this progress, Australian marine reserves were suspended from operation by a newly instated Government that ordered a review within its first 100 days of office.1 Leading research institutions, including the Australian Marine Science Association and The Ecology Centre at the University of Queensland, pointed to the lack of research behind the Government’s decision to suspend the marine reserve network,2 but those arguments fell on deaf ears.

The largest and most important park in the reserve system—the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve—lies adjacent to the Great Barrier Reef. It is also the reserve that is most likely to be severely affected by the review.

THE CORAL SEA—A BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOT

The Coral Sea is located north-east of Australia’s Queensland coast. It is bounded on the west by the Great Barrier Reef and on the north by the Torres Strait Protected Zone. These ocean environments are inextricably linked and should be managed as a broad ecosystem, particularly in the light of the parlous state of the Great Barrier Reef, which is under significant pressure and has lost half of its coral cover in the last 27 years. In the last 13 months it has endured two consecutive severe bleaching events and a category four cyclone. At the time of writing, the results of these latest impacts had not yet been quantified.

Cradling the Great Barrier Reef, the Coral Sea is a bio­diversity hotspot containing 49 different habitats supporting over 300 threatened species. It is globally recognized for its diversity of large predators, such as sharks, tunas, marlin, swordfish and sailfish, and is one of the last places on Earth where populations have not yet been severely depleted. The Coral Sea provides habitat for many endangered species, including hawksbill and green turtles. It is home to 28 species of whales and dolphins and 27 species of seabirds.

A CRITICAL BIOLOGICAL LINK

The Coral Sea is a critical link between the western Pacific and the Great Barrier Reef, and further on to the Coral Triangle of South-East Asia. It provides many of the necessary stepping stones that enable genetic exchanges between species via ocean currents, which transport spores, larvae and migratory animals. The Coral Sea also plays an important role in replenishing the Great Barrier Reef with new life. It receives oceanic currents flowing west from Vanuatu that restore the biological communities growing on its emergent reefs.

WHAT’S AT STAKE UNDER THE PROPOSED CUTS?

The Coral Sea is one of the very few places in the world where relatively intact tropical marine life can be protected on a large scale. In fact, Dr. Daniela Ceccarelli, a marine ecology consultant at the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, found that the Coral Sea sanctuary zones represent “probably the only tropical pelagic environment not markedly impacted by fishing where an area of very large scale can be established and effectively managed.”3 The marine reserve as originally proposed is home to the largest sanctuary zone in Australia and is one of the few places in the world where such a large marine sanctuary can be established to protect a relatively healthy tropical marine environment. This makes the Coral Sea’s conservation values globally significant.4

The Marion Plateau is one of the three key ecological features of the Coral Sea.5 The sanctuary zone at Marion Reef increases protection for the reefs, cays and herbivorous fish of the Plateau. Significantly, the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve is also the only place in Australia where tropical seamount environments are protected.

The Government’s own risk assessment process found eight commercial fishing practices to be incompatible with the conservation values of the Coral Sea.6 Yet the review’s new draft management plan proposes to expose the Reserve to these intensive fishing practices. Furthermore, major concerns exist within the scientific community about the new draft management plan’s low level of protection for the unique habitats of the Coral Sea, particularly its deep water troughs, open water (pelagic) ecosystems and unique coral reefs.7

The marine reserve network sought to achieve comprehensive and representative coverage of major ecological systems in Australia. Rather than overreaching, many scientists have argued that the proportion in areas of sanctuary zones is insufficient to achieve biodiversity conservation.8 In fact, for the Coral Sea specifically, a scientific consensus statement facilitated by the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and endorsed by the Australian Marine Sciences Association, as well as over 300 scientists, raised concerns over the inadequate protection for key habitats in the southern and western parts of the Coral Sea.9 The recent review process seeks to significantly reduce what the scientific community has already identified as inadequate or low-level protections.

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CONTEXT

The Centre for Conservation Geography found that the net social and economic value of the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve to the Australian community amounts to $1.2 billion.10 In addition, they found that the Reserve is predicted to generate a net increase of 100 jobs, with positive impacts on nature-based tourism and recreational fishing outweighing any possible negative impacts on commercial fishing by at least $5 million per annum. The Reserve has been extremely successful at minimizing the displacement of commercial fishing activities with the maximum potential negative impact estimated to be $4.2 million.11 The creation of the Reserve is predicted to expand the tourism industry by 150 per cent, which is a gain in direct sales of $9 million.12

Up to a third of the Reserve was set up to become the exclusive site of recreational and charter fishing, creating what is effectively the largest recreational fishing zone in Australian history. The original zoning proposed in 2012 achieved a good balance between high-level sanctuary zone protection and commercial use. The review puts this very much at risk, however, with big cuts in protection being considered.

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

The review process has released its first report outlining proposed cut backs to the Australian network of marine sanctuaries, with the Coral Sea as its centrepiece and the sanctuary facing the greatest threats. A convincing 50,000 submissions were received, calling on the Government of Australia to make no cuts and instead reinstate the full system of marine reserves and sanctuaries. Significantly, over 5,000 of those submissions were made by recreational fishers. At the time of writing, many Australian scientists, marine stakeholders and members of the ocean-loving community are working hard to prevent the gutting of the Coral Sea Commonwealth Marine Reserve. The Australian Marine Conservation Society, along with the Save Our Marine Life alliance of 25 conservation groups, believes that the current review of marine reserves should be approached as an opportunity to address weaknesses in the previous plan and to increase protection for Australia’s oceans, not reduce it. This is necessary if Australia is to move towards fulfilling its international commitments for biodiversity protection.

The Government is expected to release the redrafted management plans for the suspended marine reserves for a final round of public consultation in late May 2017.

 

More information can be found in a report commissioned by the Save Our Marine Life alliance entitled The Coral Sea Marine Reserve: Centre for Conservation Geography Report to the Australian Government’s Marine Reserves Review. Available at: http://conservationgeography.org/content/ccg-coral-sea-report-australias-commonwealth-marine-reserves-review.

Notes

1   For further information about the independent Commonwealth Marine Reserves Review, see the website of the Government of Australia at http://www.environment.gov.au/marinereservesreview/home.

2   Judith Friedlander, “Marine reserves ditched despite tide of research”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 13 September 2014. Available from http://www.smh.com.au/environment/marine-reserves-ditched-despite-tide-of-research-20140825-1083js.html.

3   Daniela M. Ceccarelli, “Australia’s Coral Sea: a biophysical profile”, Report ([Canberra], Pew Environment Group Protect Our Coral Sea,

2011), p. 3. Available from http://www.hsi.org.au/editor/assets/marine_conservation/082011%20Australias%20Coral%20Sea_%20A%20Biophysical%20Profile%20by%20marine%20ecologist%20Dr%20%20Daniela%20Ceccarelli.pdf.

4   Daniel Beaver and others, “The Coral Sea Marine Reserve: Centre for Conservation Geography Report to the Australian Government’s Marine Reserves Review”, Version 1.0 ([Canberra], Centre for Conservation Geography, 2015), p.7. Available from http://conservationgeography.org/sites/default/files/CoralSeaMarineReserve_CCGReport_31_03_2015.pdf.

5   Commonwealth of Australia, 2012. Key Ecological Features. http://www.environment.gov.au/metadataexplorer/full_metadata.jsp?docld={093A2086-7DE3-41A7-B407-SBCCA7F400AS}&Ioggedln=false.

6   Beaver and others, Op. cit., p.4.

7   Ibid.

8   Nic Bax and Ian Cresswell, “Marine reserves not about closing fisheries, but about preserving ocean health”, The Conversation, 27 August 2012. Available from http://theconversation.com/marine-reserves-not-about-closing-fisheries-but-about-preserving-ocean-health-8936.

9   Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence: Coral Reef Studies, Coral Sea Marine Reserve Proposal, Submission to the Draft Commonwealth Marine Reserve Proposal for the Coral Sea (2012). Cited in Beaver and others, p. 27.

10   Beaver and others, Op. cit., p. 4.

11   Commonwealth of Australia, Completing the Commonwealth Marine Reserves Network: Regulatory impact statement (Canberra, ACT, Australia, Marine Division, Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012), p. 50. Available from http://ris.pmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/posts/2012/06/03-Completing-the-Commonwealth-Marine-Reserves-Network-RIS1.pdf. Cited in Beaver and others, Op. cit.,p. 15.

12   Commonwealth of Australia, A Guide to the Integrated Marine and Coastal Regionalisation of Australia, IMCRA Version 4.0. (Canberra, Australia, Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006). Available from https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/2660e2d2-7623-459d-bcab-1110265d2c86/files/imcra4.pdf. Cited in Beaver and others, Op. cit.,p.16.

 

Author bio:

Adele Pedder is Marine Campaign Manager at the Australian Marine Conservation Society.