Tag Archives: SDGs

The International Seabed Authority and Deep Seabed Mining

By Michael Lodge

The deep ocean below 200 metres is the largest habitat for life on Earth and the most difficult to access. The sea floor, just like the terrestrial environment, is made up of mountain ranges, plateaus, volcanic peaks, canyons and vast abyssal plains. It contains most of the same minerals that we find on land, often in enriched forms, as well as minerals that are unique to the deep ocean, such as ferromanganese crusts and polymetallic nodules.

The existence of mineral deposits in the deepest parts of the ocean has been known since the 1860s. In Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Captain Nemo announced that “in the depths of the ocean, there are mines of zinc, iron, silver and gold that would be quite easy to exploit”, predicting that the abundance of marine resources could satisfy human need. Although he was right about the abundance of the resources, he was most certainly wrong about how easy it would be to exploit them.

Serious attention was focused on deep seabed minerals in the 1960s, when American geologist John L. Mero published a book entitled The Mineral Resources of the Sea, in which he made the case that the seabed could become a major source of supply for meeting the world’s mineral needs. This in turn led Ambassador Arvid Pardo of Malta to deliver a speech to the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly, in which he called for the resources of the deep seabed to be designated as the “common heritage of mankind” and urged the creation of a system of international regulation to prevent technologically advanced countries from colonizing the seabed and monopolizing these resources to the detriment of developing States.

Ambassador Pardo’s grand vision captured the zeitgeist of the 1960s and was to become a major driving factor in United Nations efforts to elaborate a comprehensive regime for ocean governance between 1967 and 1982. In 1970, the General Assembly, in resolution 2749 (XXV), adopted the Declaration of Principles Governing the Sea-Bed and the Ocean Floor, and the Subsoil Thereof: beyond the Limits of National Jurisdiction, which reserved the seabed exclusively for peaceful uses. Following Pardo’s advice, the Assembly also declared the mineral resources of the seabed as the “common heritage of mankind”, to be developed for the benefit of mankind as a whole through international machinery to be established for that purpose.

After the initial euphoria of the 1970s, a collapse in world metal prices, combined with relatively easy access to minerals in the developing world, dampened interest in seabed mining.

It would take another 24 years for the machinery proposed by the General Assembly to come into existence in the form of the International Seabed Authority, an autonomous organization within the United Nations common system, with headquarters located in Kingston, Jamaica. All States parties to the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) are members of the Authority, amounting to 168 members, including the European Union. The Authority is one of the three international institutions established by UNCLOS; the other two are the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf and the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea. Its primary function is to regulate exploration for and exploitation of deep seabed minerals found in ‘the Area’, which is defined by the Convention as the seabed and subsoil beyond the limits of national jurisdiction, that is, beyond the outer limits of the continental shelf. The Area comprises just over 50 per cent of the entire seabed on Earth.

Today, after decades ‘on hold’, there is renewed interest from the private sector and Governments alike in the potential for commercial exploitation of marine minerals. The principal drivers of this new interest are a combination of technological advances in marine mining and processing, and an increase in the long-term demand for minerals, which is attributable to globalization and industrialization in the developing world. Terrestrial mineral deposits are coming under increasing pressure because of the need to serve a continuously growing global population, an expanding middle class that is driving urbanization and the need for renewable, low-carbon infrastructure. Easily mined, high-grade ore deposits are quickly declining. Although new resources are likely to exist in the deep subsurface or in remote locations, mining these terrestrial deposits will require large amounts of energy and have significant social and environmental consequences. Increased recycling of metals will provide some relief but will never be sufficient to satisfy the anticipated long-term growth in demand. Deep seabed minerals are therefore increasingly likely to make an important contribution to sustainable development, particularly for those countries that lack secure sources of supply on land, as well as small island developing States that lack opportunities for economic development.

Commercial interest is currently focused on three types of marine mineral deposits. Polymetallic nodules occur throughout the ocean and are found lying on the sea floor in the abyssal plains, often partially buried in fine grain sediments. Nodules contain a wide variety of metals, including manganese, iron, copper, nickel, cobalt, lead and zinc, with important but minor concentrations of molybdenum, lithium, titanium, and niobium, among others. The most studied area of commercial interest is the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ) in the eastern Pacific, at water depths between 3,500 and 5,500 metres. This single deposit contains more nickel, manganese and cobalt than all terrestrial resources combined. Other areas of potential interest are the Central Indian Ocean basin and the exclusive economic zones of the Cook Islands, Kiribati and French Polynesia.

Polymetallic sulphides (sometimes called sea floor massive sulphides or SMS) are rich in copper, iron, zinc, silver and gold. Deposits are found at tectonic plate boundaries along the mid-ocean ridges, back-arc ridges and active volcanic arcs, typically at water depths of around 2,000 metres for mid-ocean ridges. These deposits formed over thousands of years through hydrothermal activity, when metals precipitated from water discharged from the Earth’s crust through hot springs at temperatures of up to 400’C. Because of the black plumes formed by the activity, these hydrothermal vents are often referred to as ‘black smokers’. Active hydro­thermal vents form unique ecosystems. Chemosynthetic bacteria, which use hydrogen sulphide as their energy source, form the basis of the vent food web, which is comprised of a variety of giant tube worms, crustaceans, molluscs and other species. Many vent species are considered endemic to vent sites, and hydrothermal vent habitats are thus considered to hold intrinsic scientific value.

Cobalt crusts accumulate at water depths of between 400 and 7,000 metres on the flanks and tops of seamounts. They are formed through the precipitation of minerals from seawater and contain iron, manganese, nickel, cobalt, copper and various rare metals, including rare earth elements. Globally, it is estimated that there may be as many as 100,000 seamounts higher than 1,000 metres, although relatively few of these will he found suitable for cobalt crust extraction. The most prospective area for cobalt crusts is located in the Magellan Seamounts in the Pacific Ocean, east of Japan and the Mariana Islands.

Under UNCLOS, exploration for and exploitation of seabed minerals in the Area may only be carried out under a contract with the International Seabed Authority and subject to its rules, regulations and procedures. Contracts may be issued to both public and private mining enterprises, provided they are sponsored by a State party to UNCLOS and meet certain standards of technological and financial capacity. Ultimately, the economic advantages of deep seabed mining, most likely in the form of royalties paid to the Authority, are to be shared for the “benefit of mankind as a whole”, with particular emphasis on the developing countries that lack the technology and capital to carry out seabed mining for themselves.

The Authority has developed regulations, including provisions relating to environmental protection, to govern exploration. It has so far approved 28 exploration contracts in the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans, covering more than 1.3 million square kilometres of ocean floor. In January 2017, Poland applied for the twenty-ninth exploration contract. Such contracts are held by States parties to UNCLOS and by companies sponsored by those parties. National Government participants include those from China, France, Germany, India, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation and the lnteroceanmetal Joint Organization (a consortium of Bulgaria, Cuba, the Czech Republic, Poland, the Russian Federation and Slovakia). Contracts have also been granted to an increasing cohort of private entities sponsored by both developed and developing States parties, including small island developing States such as the Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Singapore and Tonga.

The Authority is now focused on the development of a regulatory regime for exploitation of these resources. This involves consideration of a range of technological, financial and environmental issues. Although there will be technological variations in the mining equipment required for each type of mineral deposit, the basic concept and methodology for recovery is similar. In each case, a collector vehicle will make contact with the sea floor and collect the mineral deposits. In the case of SMS and cobalt crusts, this will require cutting or breaking the mineral deposits from the substrate. Nodules may be harvested directly from the seabed. In all cases, the mined materials, combined with seawater, will be brought to the surface by a riser system and transported to a surface support vessel. There the ore will be separated from the seawater and transported to processing plants on land.

Perhaps the primary concern for the Authority as a regulator is how to balance the societal benefits of deep seabed mining, including access to essential minerals, the non­displacement of communities) extensive deep sea research and technological development, against the need to protect the marine environment. Of course, the fact that no part of the Area may be exploited without permission from the Authority ensures that the environmental impacts of deep seabed mining will be monitored and controlled by an international body. This in itself reflects a precautionary approach to seabed development. It is evident, nevertheless, that mining will impact the marine environment to some extent, especially in the immediate vicinity of mining operations. Impacts may include the crushing of living organisms, the removal of substrate habitat and the creation of sediment plumes. There is also the possibility of other environmental damage through malfunctions in the riser and transportation system, hydraulic leaks, and noise and light pollution. Much of the Authority’s work to date has focused on requiring exploration contractors to collect baseline data, especially on the composition and distribution of deep sea species, and conduct scientific research to better understand the potential long-term impacts of deep sea mining.

The adoption of UNCLOS in 1982 was one of the greatest achievements of the United Nations. One of the Convention’s most important contributions is that it placed more than 50 per cent of the seabed under international jurisdiction, beyond the reach of any single State. Although it has taken more than 50 years of multilateral effort to begin to realize the promise of the “common heritage of mankind” envisioned by Ambassador Pardo and enshrined in UNCLOS, the prospects for sustainable exploitation of seabed mineral resources are better now than at almost any other time in the last 30 years. If managed effectively, in accordance with the rule of law as set out in the Convention, deep sea mining has the potential to contribute to the realization of Sustainable Development Goal 14, particularly for landlocked and geographically disadvantaged States, and small island developing States that are heavily reliant on the ocean and its resources for economic development.

 

Author bio: Michael Lodge is Secretary-General of the International Seabed Authority.

Global Marine Governance and Oceans Management for the Achievement of SDG 14

By Marjo Vierros

Over the decades, human activities in and near the world’s oceans have increased exponentially, resulting in serious negative consequences for the state of our marine environment. Scientists are seeing greater and faster change, with more rapid declines in ocean health than had been previously anticipated. Today we live in an age of a changing climate, and no part of the ocean is unaffected by human influence. Some areas, particularly those near large population centres, are strongly affected by multiple pressures. The threats facing the oceans are many and include unsustainable and destructive fishing practices; illegal and unreported fishing; pollution from both land-based and ship-based sources; habitat destruction; the introduction of invasive species; ocean noise; ship strikes (collisions between cetaceans and vessels); the mining of minerals; and the extraction of oil and gas. The adverse impacts resulting from these activities act cumulatively with the effects of ocean acidification, ocean warming, shifting currents, reduced mixing and decreasing oxygen levels. While marine ecosystems and species might be able to withstand one type or intensity of impact, they are much more severely affected by a combination of effects.

The total impact can often be greater than the sum of its parts. The declining health of the oceans has dire consequences for people, their livelihoods and entire economies, with the poorest communities that rely on ocean resources often being the most affected.

The multiple human pressures affecting the oceans have real bearing on how effective governance should be undertaken. The governance of marine and coastal areas in many countries and in international waters is primarily sectoral, with fisheries agencies regulating fisheries catches; environmental agencies dealing with pollution prevention; and other specialized agencies regulating shipping, mining, and oil and gas extraction. Strategies and policies for biodiversity and the environment, fisheries, climate change and poverty reduction are also often developed and implemented by a diverse set of agencies. And herein lies the problem. Cumulative impacts cannot effectively be managed in isolation. Multiple stressors call for integrated management, which means that we need to urgently develop a more holistic approach to ocean governance. The sectoral management of old will not be enough to address the increasing degradation of the oceans. The need to understand and manage the interactions and cumulative effects of multiple stressors has been identified as one of the most important questions in marine ecology today.

Complicating matters is the fact that the marine environment is generally considered ‘publicly owned’, and indeed the areas beyond the limits of national jurisdiction are referred to as the global commons. The customary marine tenure systems that are found, for example, in many countries of the South Pacific and in Japan provide an exception to the open-access nature of most ocean areas. This lack of ownership can lead to a ‘tragedy of the commons’, and an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ attitude often prevails, resulting in the degradation of biodiversity in ocean areas. Thus, an important component of moving forward with ocean governance is an understanding by both decision makers and the general public that all of humanity depends on the oceans for its survival, and thus all are ocean stakeholders.

From a governance perspective, marine areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ) present particular challenges. Even if the need for integrated and coherent approaches to address the multiple threats to the oceans is well understood, there is no State, organization or other institution that bears the overall management responsibility for ABNJ, and the current regulation and institutional arrangements, with the exception of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), are sectoral in nature. Thus the decision by the United Nations General Assembly in resolution 69/292 to establish a preparatory committee to provide the Assembly with recommendations on the elements of a draft text of an international legally binding instrument under UNCLOS on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity of ABNJ presents an opportunity to greatly improve ocean governance.

While there is general agreement in international policy that an ecosystem approach is needed to improve ocean governance, its application in practice is still limited. This is due in large part to the considerable practical difficulties of implementation, including the availability of suitable information and lack of analytical and scientific tools to support the process. It may also be due, in part, to a limited understanding of what exactly constitutes an ecosystem approach, including its provisions for the broad participation of all stakeholders. Many different ecosystem approaches exist and include those used by the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, which are highly compatible. In practice, some of the most widely implemented ecosystem approaches include integrated coastal zone management, sometimes referred to as integrated coastal area management, and integrated water resources management, sometimes expressed as river basin management. While not formally called ‘ecosystem approaches’, they espouse the use of a whole or integrated system as the base layer for all planning and management. In addition, many indigenous management systems embody a holistic view of the connections between all living things and their environment, and are thus also an expression of an ecosystem approach.

Many tools and strategies can be used to apply an ecosystem approach to the management of human activities in ocean and coastal areas. These include bioregional classification, coherent systems of marine protected or managed areas, ocean zoning and fisheries management. Environmental impact assessment and strategic environmental assessment ensure that proposed activities do not cause undue environmental degradation. Overall, a key challenge remains: integrating various management approaches undertaken by sectors into a comprehensive and cohesive plan with the ecosystem as its central framework. Marine spatial planning (MSP) is one approach that can help countries undertake this task, and it is gaining considerable popularity. MSP provides a way to integrate human activities without compromising conservation values. Similarly to integrated coastal zone management, it provides for operationalizing an ecosystem approach through a planning process involving all stakeholders. Through MSP, the stakeholders can put forward their vision for an area; identify where human activities (including offshore energy, shipping, fishing, aquaculture, tourism, mining and other activities) currently occur and where it might be desirable for them to take place in the future; and identify actual or potential conflicts between different oceans-related uses, as well as human activities and desired conservation outcomes. The resulting spatial plan can provide for sustainable use, while also conserving specific areas through marine protected areas (MPAs) and other appropriate measures in a manner that avoids potential conflicts.

In applying these approaches, it is important to keep in mind that the oceans are interconnected through the movement of water masses, the migration of species and the dispersal of larvae. While countries’ exclusive economic zones are legally separate entities from ABNJ, they are ecologically and biologically connected. Thus, applying governance in the context of an ecosystem approach will also need to take into account ecosystems and species that cross political boundaries. This approach will benefit not only fisheries resources and migratory species, but also coastal communities, particularly in developing countries, for which these species and ecosystems have economic, social and cultural significance.

Any solutions that seek to improve the governance of an interconnected ocean need to include two components: (i) they will need to support and build upon well-functioning coastal systems of management already undertaken by communities, which may include traditional marine management systems of indigenous peoples and local communities based fully or in part on traditional knowledge; and (ii) they will need to provide for the protection and improved management of economically, socially and culturally important species and their habitats in areas beyond national jurisdiction by addressing both single and cumulative threats, and using tools such as by-catch prevention, effective fisheries management and avoidance of ship strikes, as well as new, dynamic techniques for MPAs and other area-based management.

There are also many lessons that could be learned from coastal management and the efforts of coastal communities, which are transferable and could benefit the management of human activities in ocean ecosystems everywhere. They include developing mechanisms to achieve effective coordination and collaboration between sectoral institutions and levels of government; building trust and facilitating stakeholder participation in a way that ensures that everyone’s voice is heard, even the voices of those who do not generally participate in management processes; and integrating the best available science, including traditional knowledge, into management, particularly in situations where the science is incomplete. These lessons also include ways in which the costs and benefits of conservation and management are equitably shared, so that coastal communities are not made to bear a disproportionate burden when, for example, an MPA is established.

Sustainable Development Goal 14, with its comprehensive set of targets, provides an opportunity to bring ocean governance to the forefront of the global dialogue on sustainable development. It is not only an opportunity for a rich exchange of ideas, but also for bringing together ocean stakeholders and agreeing on a new road map for improved ocean governance that can benefit ecosystems as well as people and their livelihoods. To achieve this, a new sense of stewardship for the oceans is needed, one supported by the application of a holistic, integrated ecosystem approach to the management of all human activities impacting oceans.

Author bio: Marjo Vierros is Adjunct Senior Fellow at the United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies. Her work focuses on Coastal Policy and Humanities Research.

Save a Whale, Save a Planet

By Leonardo DiCaprio

In 1997, a dramatic scene played out near Los Angeles as a newborn grey whale was discovered stranded in Marina del Rey. It had become separated from its mother during the annual migration from Alaska to Mexico. Hundreds of volunteers commandeered boats and moving vans and used makeshift stretchers to move this lone baby female whale over 100 miles to San Diego in a desperate attempt to save her life.

Named JJ by her rescuers, she arrived weak, dehydrated and disoriented-but after 18 months in care, she was restored to health and released back into the wild. While many celebrated that day, the challenges JJ overcame were nothing compared to the threats she and her entire grey whale species now face 20 years later.

THAT THREAT IS CLIMATE CHANGE.

Today, our oceans are under immense pressure as their waters absorb much of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases pumped into the air by human activity, resulting in a 30 per cent increase in acidity. The progress of the human race, particularly since the Industrial Revolution, has resulted in devastating impacts to our entire climate, and those impacts are particularly prevalent in our oceans.

Seashells are weaker, massive ancient coral formations are bleaching and essential ecosystems are dying. The marine food chain is endangered: clams, oysters, lobsters and crabs, which are a dietary staple for large sea creatures such as seals, otters and walruses, are under the threat of extinction. Most worrisome of all, plankton, amphipods (tiny shrimp-like creatures) and other microscopic organisms that sustain mighty whales and fish of all types and sizes are becoming harder to find. This frightening trend means JJ will likely starve to death before the end of her normal lifespan, and much of the sea life that billions of humans depend on will disappear.

Unlike other threats to the ocean, such as plastic pollution and overfishing, these changes are not always easy to see, but there are obvious warnings. More than half of the world’s 17 penguin species are now endangered, largely due to climate change-related declines in their food supply. Common clams are smaller than ever-quite literally disappearing before our eyes-and humans, too, will suffer from that loss. A protein found in a common clam shell has been shown to cure cancers. Where do we turn when it’s gone?

As a result of climate change, the world’s oceans are already warming to the point where they can no longer absorb our pollution, meaning efforts to cut carbon emissions will have to go far beyond the levels laid out by the 2015 Paris Agreement if we are to avoid the most catastrophic impacts.

Sea level rise and the damage to coastal regions from more intense and long-lasting storms have already wiped out vulnerable, low-lying communities and the livelihoods of local fishers, tourism workers, farmers and so many others. Our thirst for oil has led to massive oil spills that hurt even more.

BUT THERE IS HOPE.

The Paris Agreement paved the way to a more sustainable future for the planet and especially its oceans. My foundation has supported research at The Solutions Project (http://thesolutionsproject.org) that shows the world could be powered by 100 per cent clean, renewable energy by 2050. In Viet Nam, mangroves are being restored along the coast to absorb carbon, provide nurseries for countless fish species and buffer the coast from violent storms. And in the same waters near Los Angeles where JJ was found two decades ago, volunteers are replanting vital giant kelp forests that are home to 800 species of other plants and animals, and that provide oxygen to the planet for everyone.

Will it be enough? Hundreds of volunteers came together to rescue JJ-people from all walks of life, all ages, all backgrounds. They checked their egos and agendas at the beach and dove in, quite literally, to save a creature in dire need. We can do so again for our oceans, for ourselves, and for our future. But just as we made a conscious decision to rescue JJ once upon a time, we are now making another equally profound choice of whether she lives a full, normal life, or whether further ocean degradation will starve her, prematurely, to death. If that happens, we are also condemning our children to a much bleaker quality of life than the one we take for granted today.

We know that humankind is powerful enough-and apparently foolish enough-to change the very chemistry of two thirds of the planet. The same alarm and urgency that arose to save JJ in 1997 needs to happen today as the massive threat to her and an entire class of marine biodiversity increases. United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 asks us to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development”. Let’s remember that this goal cannot be achieved merely by limiting the number of fish we take from the sea or ending risky oil exploration in coastal waters, but also by eliminating the threats posed to our oceans from climate change and the emissions we drive here on land.

Author bio: Leonardo DiCaprio is an Academy Award-winning actor, producer and activist. He founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in 1998 for biodiversity and habitat conservation, and climate change solutions. Mr. DiCaprio is a United Nations Messenger of Peace for climate change, and a recipient of the Clinton Global Citizen Award and the World Economic Forum Crystal Award. He serves on the boards of the World Wildlife Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, National Geographic’s Pristine Seas, Oceans 5, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

The Role of the International Maritime Organization in Preventing the Pollution of the World’s Oceans from Ships and Shipping

By Kitack Lim

Shipping is a key user of the oceans, delivering more than 80 per cent of world trade, taking ferry passengers to their destinations and carrying millions of tourists on cruises. Annually, more than 50,000 seagoing ships carry between them more than 10 billion tons1 of vital and desired cargoes, including commodities, fuel, raw materials and consumer goods.

As the United Nations agency responsible for developing and adopting measures to improve the safety and security of international shipping and to prevent pollution from ships, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) has an integral role in meeting the targets set out in United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

The increase in the number and the size of ships and the volume of cargo carried over the past five decades has gone hand in hand with the work of IMO, through its 172 member States, to create the legal and technical framework within which shipping has become progressively cleaner and safer. Of course, there remains work to be done. IMO will continue its efforts, in partnership with member States and other organizations, to implement and support the enforcement of its regulations.

Formed by means of the 1948 Convention on the International Maritime Organization, IMO initially focused on maritime safety and navigation. Then, in the 1960s, the world became more aware of the spillage of oil into the oceans and seas through accidents or as a result of poor operating practices. Spurred by major oil pollution incidents, such as the Torrey Canyon disaster off the south-west coast of the United Kingdom in 1967, IMO embarked on an ambitious programme of work on marine pollution prevention and response, and on liability and compensation issues. A key outcome was the adoption, in 1973, of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, universally known as MARPOL.

From the start, MARPOL addressed not just pollution by oil from ships (covered in Annex I) but also noxious liquid substances, such as chemicals, carried in bulk (Annex II); harmful substances carried in packaged form (Annex III); sewage discharges into the sea (Annex IV); and the disposal at sea of ship-generated garbage (Annex V). Under Annex V, a general prohibition applies to discharging all garbage from ships, while discharging plastics is subject to a total, globally applicable ban.

Later, in 1997, IMO added a new Annex VI to MARPOL dealing with atmospheric pollution from ships. Today, Annex VI addresses air pollution from sulphur and other harmful emissions, such as nitrogen oxides and particulate matter. In 2011, IMO became the first international regulator for a transport sector to adopt globally binding energy efficiency requirements, which apply to all ships globally, regardless of trading pattern or flag State, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from international shipping.

MARPOL Annex VI also incorporates regulations for ozone-depleting substances, volatile organic compounds, shipboard incinerators, reception facilities and fuel oil quality. All these measures have a significant, beneficial impact on the atmospheric environment, and also on human health for people living in or near port cities and coastal communities.

Under MARPOL Annex VI, Emission Control Areas (ECAs) for sulphur oxide and nitrogen oxide emissions have been designated, with a strict 0.10 per cent by mass (m/m) limit on sulphur in fuel oil. In a move that demonstrates a clear commitment by IMO to ensuring that shipping meets its environmental obligations, the global sulphur limit outside ECAs will be cut to 0.50 per cent m/m, from 3.5 per cent m/m, from 1 January 2020.

Today, the expanded, amended and updated MARPOL Convention remains the most important, as well as the most comprehensive, international treaty covering the prevention of both marine and atmospheric pollution by ships, from operational or accidental causes. By providing a solid foundation for substantial and continued reductions in ship-source pollution, the Convention continues to be relevant today.

MARPOL also recognizes the need for more stringent requirements to manage and protect so-called Special Areas, due to their ecology and their sea traffic. A total of 19 Special Areas have been designated. They include enclosed or semi­enclosed seas, such as the Mediterranean Sea, Baltic Sea, Black Sea and Red Sea areas, and much larger ocean expanses such as the Southern South Africa waters and the Western European waters. This recognition of Special Areas, alongside global regulation, is a clear indication of a strong IMO awareness of—and total commitment to—the fundamental importance of protecting and preserving the world’s seas and oceans as vital life support systems for all peoples.

The Antarctic has enjoyed Special Area status since 1992. Oily discharges into the sea and garbage disposal overboard are totally prohibited. In addition, a total ban on the carriage or use of heavy fuel oils took effect on 1 August 2011 under a new MARPOL Annex I regulation. Polar waters also benefit from special measures under the IMO Polar Code, which entered into force on 1 January 2017 for ships operating in both Antarctic and Arctic waters.

IMO also has a process to designate Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs), which are subject to associated protective measures, such as mandatory ship-routeing systems. There are currently 14 areas (plus two extensions) protected in this way, including those covering UNESCO World Heritage Marine Sites, such as the Great Barrier Reef (Australia), the Galápagos Archipelago (Ecuador), the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (United States of America), and the Wadden Sea (Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands). This long-established practice of designating Special Areas and PSSAs fully supports the SDG 14 target to increase coverage of marine protected areas.

While MARPOL specifically targets accidental and operational discharges from ship operations, IMO also actively addresses marine pollution from land-based sources, albeit indirectly, through the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, 1972, and its 1996 Protocol. The Protocol adopts a precautionary approach, prohibiting the discharge of wastes at sea except for a few specified on a list of permitted wastes, such as dredged material.

The London Convention and Protocol regime also contributes to climate change mitigation by regulating for carbon capture and sequestration in subsea geological formations and providing regulations and guidance on how to assess proposals for marine geoengineering.

The process of adopting all these measures at IMO begins with structured fora, in which member States debate, agree and adopt universal measures aimed at safe and sustainable shipping with minimal adverse environmental impact.

The essential path to implementation then follows. IMO works with various stakeholders and partners to build capacity and expertise among its member States to write IMO standards into their own national maritime legislation, and then to implement and enforce that legislation effectively.

IMO has a long history of working with key donors, including the European Union, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation, the Korea International Cooperation Agency, and shipping and maritime organizations such as IPIECA, the global oil and gas industry association for environmental and social issues.

A large number of marine environmental projects have been implemented, with support from a range of regional organizations, including the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea, the Regional Organization for the Conservation of the Environment of the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden, the Regional Organization for the Protection of the Marine Environment, the Commission on the Protection of the Black Sea Against Pollution, and the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme.

IMO has pioneered a series of projects based on a global partnership model known as Glo-X, which is being used to accelerate legal, policy and institutional reforms in developing countries to implement international conventions while, at the same time, leveraging private sector partnerships to accelerate research and development and technological innovations by forming global industry alliances and facilitating information exchange.

The GloBallast Partnerships Project (2007-2017), a joint initiative of GEF, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and IMO, has been successful in assisting developing countries in reducing the transfer of potentially harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens in ships ballast water and implementing the IMO Ballast Water Management (BWM) Convention. The BWM Convention will enter into force in September 2017 and will require ships to manage their ballast water to avoid the transfer of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens, and protect the marine environment, human health, property and resources.

A second global partnerships project is the GEF-UNDP­IMO Global Maritime Energy Efficiency Partnership project (GloMEEP), which is working in 10 lead pilot countries (Argentina, China, Georgia, India, Jamaica, Malaysia, Morocco, Panama, Philippines and South Africa). It aims to create global, regional and national partnerships to build capacity to address maritime energy efficiency—in other words, to address greenhouse gas emissions from ships—and for countries to bring this into the mainstream within their own development policies, programmes and dialogues.

Another current project, funded by the European Union, is the Global Maritime Technology Cooperation Centre (MTCC) Network (GMN), which is establishing a global network of five MTCCs in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Pacific. The aim is to help beneficiary countries limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their shipping sectors. The project will encourage the uptake of energy efficiency technologies through the dissemination of technical information and know-how.

Through this network of MTCCs, the project will enable developing countries in these regions, and in particular, least developed countries and small island developing States, to effectively implement energy efficiency measures in maritime transport through technical assistance and capacity­building. Both the GloMEEP and GMN projects will support IMO member States in climate change mitigation, the key aim of SDG 13.

In other oceans-related partnerships, IMO is a partner in, and secretariat for, the Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection (GESAMP), which advises the United Nations system on scientific components of marine environmental protection. GESAMP evaluates the environmental hazards of harmful substances carried by ships and reviews applications for “active substances” to be used in ballast water management systems, thereby providing inputs into the regulatory process at IMO. GESAMP also provides a systematic overview of new and emerging issues to inform its nine sponsoring United Nations organizations.

Recent key reports by GESAMP on microplastics in the oceans have contributed to the widening knowledge of the sources and fate of marine litter, specifically microplastics, in the oceans. IMO is also a co-lead for sea-based sources of marine litter, together with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, in the Global Partnership on Marine Litter, which is managed by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The IMO track record in minimizing pollution from ships, both into the seas and oceans and into the atmosphere, speaks for itself. The Organization is fully committed to working through its member States and with its partners to continue to develop, maintain and implement a set of global regulations to ensure shipping’s sustainable use of the oceans.

Notes

1       United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, Review of Maritime Transport 2016 (UNCTAD/RMT/2016), pp. X, 87. Available from http://unctad.org/en/Publicationslibrary/rmt2016_en.pdf.

Author bio:

Kitack Lim is Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization.

Engaging Youth to Conserve Coastal and Marine Environments

By Kerstin Forsberg

As I write this article, my country, Peru, is experiencing one of its greatest natural disasters of all time. Due to a phenomenon known locally as the coastal El Niño, intense warm ocean currents have caused heavy rainfall in some parts of the country, which led to flooding and landslides that have severely impacted the lives of over a million people.

Many assert that these types of natural phenomena can be intensified by climate change, while sceptics claim that there is still not enough data to justify this. By now, however, there should be a consensus that humanity intrinsically depends on the ocean, and it is thus our obligation to protect it. The ocean is our planet’s main life source. Two out of three breaths we take are oxygenated by the ocean. It defines our climate and provides food security. A healthy ocean guarantees subsistence and survival. We would think that such a critical notion should be embraced and preached by all, but that is not the case.

The severe disregard that people show the ocean came to my attention at an early age. In 2007, I was a 22-year-old undergraduate student researching threatened sea turtles in northern Peru. After observing the increasing mortality of these species, I approached schools in fishing communities to inquire about their initiatives in marine education. To my surprise, these issues were not being addressed by the local education system.

Soon after, realizing that there was an urgent need to connect people to the ocean, I founded Planeta Océano, a non-profit organization that empowers coastal communities through marine conservation, research, education and sustainable economic development. We also established the Marine Educators Network, with over 50 schools in Peru, to incorporate marine issues into education systems in a cross­cutting manner. With this network we have built capacity in educational institutions, developed game-based learning and engaged thousands of students in youth-led initiatives that positively impact their communities.

The network also provides youth with training in marine conservation, project development and leadership. Participants identify local environmental challenges, and receive technical and financial support to work towards solutions. To date, over 400 young people have been engaged in youth-led initiatives ranging from mangrove reforestation to advocating for sustainable fisheries, among others.

In addition to this incubator of young conservationists, we have involved youth in all Planeta Océano programmes. Youth act as ‘citizen scientists’ and are taught how to carry out research, collecting data to benefit fisheries management and threatened species, and how to help promote sustainable economic activities, such as ecotourism. At Planeta Océano, youth start as volunteers, but over time they can access leadership positions and assist in the management of activities, projects and programmes. Youth can also help guide design strategies and agendas, and engage with stakeholder groups, including fishermen, schools, businesses and authorities.

This approach has allowed us to reach over 500,000 people in Peru and enhance the personal and professional development of hundreds of youth. It has sparked multiplier effects and ownership in local communities, since messaging comes from youth community members themselves. Together with youth we are changing how marine environments are perceived. We are contributing to local success stories, such as that of Josué Granda, the 4-year-old who helped his sister volunteer in our sea turtle research programme, and who now-at 14 years of age-leads a popular environmental club in his community. Another success story involves Edgardo Cruz, the fisherman who captured a vulnerable manta ray yet later became an ambassador for manta ray conservation. Youth have become key actors in achieving legal protection for threatened manta rays, and reported new scientific evidence in support of sea turtle and elasmobranch conservation, among other activities.

As a young entrepreneur once myself, my journey with Planeta Océano has allowed me to witness the huge potential of young people in conservation and sustainable development. It has shown me the importance of engaging youth not only as participants and collaborators, but also as genuine strategic partners.

Youth are already coming up with creative solutions to the world’s greatest challenges.1 Thus, tapping into youth-a population of around 1.8 billion people worldwide-and their energy and potential for innovation and creativity is extremely timely. Despite global goals urging greater conservation efforts,2 only 3 per cent of the world’s ocean is protected;3 overfishing and eco­system degradation jeopardize food security; and sea level rise endangers the well-being of coastal communities. Nevertheless, young people remain one of our largest untapped resources for advancing the global marine conservation agenda.

This is where scaling marine education becomes critical for harnessing the potential of youth. Marine education can provide young people with the skills, tools and perspectives necessary to conserve marine environments.

If we want to further engage youth in marine conservation, however, we also need a broader systemic change. This includes, for example, further incorporating youth leadership and counselling into local, national and international institutions; increasing connections between youth and relevant stakeholders; and boosting funding for qualified youth leaders. Moreover, we need to engage entire communities—women, teachers, fishermen and children—in the design, implementation and monitoring of conservation and management efforts at every stage of these processes.

It has been 10 years since my team and I started working in the field of marine conservation. As I look back, I recognize the impact that education, partnerships and support have had on our own early career development and on our community. In the same way, engaging more youth and a greater number of local communities can promote positive change, help overcome environmental challenges and enhance effective strategies for conservation worldwide.

Furthermore, by engaging youth and coastal communities, we can also bring people together, fostering good citizenship, peace and pride, and ultimately, building communities of optimism and hope. This is exactly what marine conservation and our world finally need.

For more information on Planeta Océano, visit www.planetaoceano.org.

Notes

1       For more information on youth Initiatives, see YouthActionNet website. Available from http://www.youthactionnet.org. For more information on youth entrepreneurs, see Forbes website. Available from www.forbes.com/30-under-30-2016/social-entrepreneurs/.

2       Louisa J. Wood and others, “Assessing progress towards global marine protection targets: shortfalls in information and action”, Oryx, vol. 42, No.3 (July 2008), 340-351.

3       For more Information, see Marine Protected Areas Atlas. Available from http://www.mpatlas.org/.

 

Author bio:

Kerstin Forsberg is Director of Planeta Océano, Peru.

Making the Ocean a Partner in Our Quest for a Sustainable Future

By José Graziano Da Silva

Humanity owes much to the oceans in many aspects of life. In fact, oceans are essential in providing invaluable ecosystems and climate regulation, as well as important cultural support to the millions of people who live near the sea.

It is time for us to reciprocate and stop treating our oceans as waste pools. Today, our oceans are threatened by a range of factors, from many forms of pollution to climate change and unsustainable fishing practices, all of which are results of human activity. This is why the international community, in approving the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically established SDG 14, charging us to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. This is essential for sustainability, and there is a lot to be done. Delivering on SDG 14 requires teamwork and a spirit of partnership among diverse stakeholders from many nations and sectors.

PROSPECTS FOR BLUE GROWTH

The same components and objectives set out under SDG 14 are embodied in the Blue Growth Initiative promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to reconcile ocean-related economic growth with improved livelihoods and social equity.

As 3 billion people ultimately depend on marine and coastal biodiversity, all nations agree on the need to step up efforts to protect oceans and seas, especially in the era of climate change, when transformational interventions are becoming even more urgent and encompassing. The oceans cover almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface, storing one third of all the carbon emissions stemming from human activity. They are part of the solution, and we must make them a key focus of our efforts to cope with and mitigate climate change.

Researchers have discovered that plankton, fish and marine mammals can mistake plastic material for food, and have found that banned pollutants abound in organisms more than 10 kilometres below the ocean surface. Acidified waters, which have increased by 25 per cent since the Industrial Revolution and are the tell-tale symptom of excessive greenhouse gas emissions, can impact the growth and reproductive patterns of fish and invertebrates.

The protection and responsible use of our oceans is a joint task. We are all in the same boat. This means tapping potential partnerships extending well beyond industrial production, and engaging communities and consumers in particular. Let us not forget that SDG 14 and the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are a response to the demands of people. The public’s call for action and accountability is strong. Indeed, since 2003, there has been a 40-fold increase in the amount of seafood production certified under global sustainability initiatives. This accounts for more than one seventh of all seafood output and is, in fact, rapidly catching up—and I hope and trust will soon surpass—the one sixth of all seafood that is caught in illegal, unreported or unregulated ways.

BUILDING MOMENTUM WITH THE PORT STATE MEASURES AGREEMENT

FAO is leading campaigns to enforce fair rules in an international sector where worldwide net export revenues for developing countries are worth more than those for trade in any agricultural commodity. Both human livelihoods and the sustainability of fish stocks are harder to support when laws are defied.

A very important step in this endeavour is the Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing. FAO drafted and brokered agreements to this treaty, which is designed to crack down on all rogue fishing vessels and prevent their catch—estimated to be up to 26 million tons each year and worth $23 billion—from entering markets. PSMA, which entered into force in 2016, marks a new dawn, going well beyond previous flag and port State rules and requiring all ships to submit to inspections wherever they dock, even for refuelling.

The Agreement is especially important, as one of the specific targets included in SDG 14 is to effectively end IUU fishing by 2020—just three years from now—in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yields. Achieving the target date for ending IUU will require an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach. Robust implementation of PSMA and compliance with fishery management protocols are obviously essential. So, too, are initiatives aimed at reducing and recovering fishing gear lost at sea, which is estimated to account for as much as 640,000 tons of rubbish put into the oceans each year, around one tenth of the total. FAO is actively promoting stronger rules for marking fishing gear, which industry participants recognize would strike a blow to IUU fishing activities as well as facilitate recovery of nets and other equipment which, when lost or dumped overboard, continue to entangle fish.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

FAO participates in the implementation of many programmes aimed at promoting sustainable fisheries and preserving marine resources. One of them, the Nansen Programme, is carried out in partnership with the Government of Norway. Over the last 40 years, vessels funded by Norway and operating under the United Nations flag have conducted research activities that have vastly deepened our understanding of underwater ecosystems and the life­sustaining fisheries that so many people around the globe depend on, especially those living in developing countries in Africa and Asia. The Programme has allowed us to improve research and activities where marine observations are extremely limited, and better understand the impacts of climate change and other external drivers, such as pollution, on aquatic ecosystems. This is crucial to enabling developing countries to increase the resilience of ecosystems and coastal communities, especially with regard to small-scale fisheries.

INCLUDE THE PEOPLE OF THE SEA

The way forward must ensure that the shift to sustainability produces benefits for the people who rely on the sea the most: the residents of small island developing States and small-scale artisanal fishers, especially in developing countries. These States and communities lack the scale and capacity to carry out all the needed transformations on their own. While FAO offers help and advice, it is crucial that everyone, especially those better able to shoulder the task, recognize the responsibility to increase efforts by making even more ambitious commitments of their own. Responsible fishing in national as well as international waters, adequate knowledge and technology transfers, and collaborations enabling fish products to enter global trade markets are all essential.

Nowadays, about 120 million people depend on commercial fisheries for their livelihoods, and nearly 90 per cent of them work in small-scale fisheries in developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia. They are among the poorest communities in the world, and they risk being further marginalized if we fail to recognize the importance of small-scale fisheries.

Thus, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture are crucial in our quest to implement the 2030 Agenda, and not only to achieve SDG 14 but also to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, as stipulated in Goals 1 and 2.

Author bio: José Graziano Da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Making the Ocean a Partner in Our Quest for a Sustainable Future

By José Graziano Da Silva

Humanity owes much to the oceans in many aspects of life. In fact, oceans are essential in providing invaluable ecosystems and climate regulation, as well as important cultural support to the millions of people who live near the sea.

It is time for us to reciprocate and stop treating our oceans as waste pools. Today, our oceans are threatened by a range of factors, from many forms of pollution to climate change and unsustainable fishing practices, all of which are results of human activity. This is why the international community, in approving the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically established SDG 14, charging us to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. This is essential for sustainability, and there is a lot to be done. Delivering on SDG 14 requires teamwork and a spirit of partnership among diverse stakeholders from many nations and sectors.

PROSPECTS FOR BLUE GROWTH

The same components and objectives set out under SDG 14 are embodied in the Blue Growth Initiative promoted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) to reconcile ocean-related economic growth with improved livelihoods and social equity.

As 3 billion people ultimately depend on marine and coastal biodiversity, all nations agree on the need to step up efforts to protect oceans and seas, especially in the era of climate change, when transformational interventions are becoming even more urgent and encompassing. The oceans cover almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface, storing one third of all the carbon emissions stemming from human activity. They are part of the solution, and we must make them a key focus of our efforts to cope with and mitigate climate change.

Researchers have discovered that plankton, fish and marine mammals can mistake plastic material for food, and have found that banned pollutants abound in organisms more than 10 kilometres below the ocean surface. Acidified waters, which have increased by 25 per cent since the Industrial Revolution and are the tell-tale symptom of excessive greenhouse gas emissions, can impact the growth and reproductive patterns of fish and invertebrates.

The protection and responsible use of our oceans is a joint task. We are all in the same boat. This means tapping potential partnerships extending well beyond industrial production, and engaging communities and consumers in particular. Let us not forget that SDG 14 and the entire 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are a response to the demands of people. The public’s call for action and accountability is strong. Indeed, since 2003, there has been a 40-fold increase in the amount of seafood production certified under global sustainability initiatives. This accounts for more than one seventh of all seafood output and is, in fact, rapidly catching up—and I hope and trust will soon surpass—the one sixth of all seafood that is caught in illegal, unreported or unregulated ways.

BUILDING MOMENTUM WITH THE PORT STATE MEASURES AGREEMENT

FAO is leading campaigns to enforce fair rules in an international sector where worldwide net export revenues for developing countries are worth more than those for trade in any agricultural commodity. Both human livelihoods and the sustainability of fish stocks are harder to support when laws are defied.

A very important step in this endeavour is the Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing. FAO drafted and brokered agreements to this treaty, which is designed to crack down on all rogue fishing vessels and prevent their catch—estimated to be up to 26 million tons each year and worth $23 billion—from entering markets. PSMA, which entered into force in 2016, marks a new dawn, going well beyond previous flag and port State rules and requiring all ships to submit to inspections wherever they dock, even for refuelling.

The Agreement is especially important, as one of the specific targets included in SDG 14 is to effectively end IUU fishing by 2020—just three years from now—in order to restore fish stocks in the shortest time feasible to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yields. Achieving the target date for ending IUU will require an ‘all-hands-on-deck’ approach. Robust implementation of PSMA and compliance with fishery management protocols are obviously essential. So, too, are initiatives aimed at reducing and recovering fishing gear lost at sea, which is estimated to account for as much as 640,000 tons of rubbish put into the oceans each year, around one tenth of the total. FAO is actively promoting stronger rules for marking fishing gear, which industry participants recognize would strike a blow to IUU fishing activities as well as facilitate recovery of nets and other equipment which, when lost or dumped overboard, continue to entangle fish.

INTERNATIONAL COOPERATION

FAO participates in the implementation of many programmes aimed at promoting sustainable fisheries and preserving marine resources. One of them, the Nansen Programme, is carried out in partnership with the Government of Norway. Over the last 40 years, vessels funded by Norway and operating under the United Nations flag have conducted research activities that have vastly deepened our understanding of underwater ecosystems and the life­sustaining fisheries that so many people around the globe depend on, especially those living in developing countries in Africa and Asia. The Programme has allowed us to improve research and activities where marine observations are extremely limited, and better understand the impacts of climate change and other external drivers, such as pollution, on aquatic ecosystems. This is crucial to enabling developing countries to increase the resilience of ecosystems and coastal communities, especially with regard to small-scale fisheries.

INCLUDE THE PEOPLE OF THE SEA

The way forward must ensure that the shift to sustainability produces benefits for the people who rely on the sea the most: the residents of small island developing States and small-scale artisanal fishers, especially in developing countries. These States and communities lack the scale and capacity to carry out all the needed transformations on their own. While FAO offers help and advice, it is crucial that everyone, especially those better able to shoulder the task, recognize the responsibility to increase efforts by making even more ambitious commitments of their own. Responsible fishing in national as well as international waters, adequate knowledge and technology transfers, and collaborations enabling fish products to enter global trade markets are all essential.

Nowadays, about 120 million people depend on commercial fisheries for their livelihoods, and nearly 90 per cent of them work in small-scale fisheries in developing countries, especially in Africa and Asia. They are among the poorest communities in the world, and they risk being further marginalized if we fail to recognize the importance of small-scale fisheries.

Thus, sustainable fisheries and aquaculture are crucial in our quest to implement the 2030 Agenda, and not only to achieve SDG 14 but also to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, as stipulated in Goals 1 and 2.

Author bio: José Graziano Da Silva is Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

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.

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.