Tag Archives: Marine

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.

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.


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.

Know Your Ocean. Love Your Ocean.

By Emily Penn

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Albert Einstein

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

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

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

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


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

(uploaded October 2014).

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

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

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

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


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

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.


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


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.