Tag Archives: Ecosystems

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

By Dame Meg Taylor

THE PACIFIC OCEAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sustainable Management of Our Ocean

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

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

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

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

The Pacific Ocean Commissioner

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

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

Pacific Ocean Alliance

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

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

Leadership in Ocean Management

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

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

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

Facing Challenges Together

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

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

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

 

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

By Cristiana Paşca Palmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes

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

http://coml.org.

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

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

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

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

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

7       Ibid.

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

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

Author bio:

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

Can We Save Coral Reefs?

By Carrie Manfrino

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

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

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

“RETHINKING THE FUTURE FOR CORAL REEFS” SYMPOSIUM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT STEPS FROM THE SYMPOSIUM

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

CONCLUSION

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

Notes

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

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

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

why it matters”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Adele Pedder

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CORAL SEA—A BIODIVERSITY HOTSPOT

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

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

A CRITICAL BIOLOGICAL LINK

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

WHAT’S AT STAKE UNDER THE PROPOSED CUTS?

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

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

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

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

ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL CONTEXT

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

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

WHERE ARE WE NOW?

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

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

 

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

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

6   Beaver and others, Op. cit., p.4.

7   Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

 

Author bio:

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