In this edition we feature some inspiring examples from across the globe of government efforts to support local communities gain greater benefits from sustainably managed ocean resources, balanced with protected areas to support resilience and prosperity; to deal more comprehensively with ocean stressors such as plastic pollution and climate change and to promote the crucial role of marine science in supporting evidence-led ocean governance.
Science-led ocean governance
Inspired by the mission of the UN Decade of Ocean Science to deliver “the science we need for the ocean we want”, the head of the Philippines’ Department of Environment and Natural Resources underlined that “the present state of the ocean, the threats to it, and its proper management are all governed by science,” as the country’s celebration of the “Month of the Ocean” got underway. We would agree that an evidence-led approach to ocean governance is crucial and greater scientific knowledge underpins policies to address anthropogenic impacts on the ocean and informs sustainable use of the ocean’s resources.
Just how much of the ocean remains undiscovered is highlighted by a new publication from India’s Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change which investigates the country’s deep sea biodiversity for the first time. A culmination of scientific efforts which date back to a pioneering Indian Ocean expedition in 1874, this work spans three centuries and catalogues over 4,300 species, ranging from single-celled organisms to 31 large species of marine mammal. Much of the scientific exploration was conducted to depths of 2,000m, leaving areas of up to 6,000m depth or more, including hydrothermal vents, submarine canyons, deep sea trenches, and seamounts completely unexplored. Whilst there is much still to know, the many years of patient study will “support knowledge on conserving and managing deep sea faunal resources and pave the way for their sustainable use”, according to the lead author.
For ocean science to better inform ocean governance, efforts are needed to enhance scientific understanding, improve scientific assessments, strengthen capacity to undertake marine science and improve dialogue between ocean scientists, policy makers and managers, noted the Deputy Permanent Representative of Barbados to the UN upon the launch of the Second World Ocean Assessment report on Earth Day. The assessment charts an alarming rate of deterioration in ecosystem services from marine and coastal ecosystems, due to compounding human pressures including climate change. Capacity-building, sharing scientific knowledge and collaboration to develop and transfer innovative marine technology are essential to empower states to fully participate in and benefit from the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean and assist them in meeting their international obligations.
Supporting sustainability in fisheries
Several countries are working hard to support sustainable use of the ocean and local livelihoods. This month Ghana’s Minister of Fisheries and Aquaculture Development opened a new regional monitoring, control and surveillance centre to address illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (“IUU fishing”) and other maritime crimes in the region. IUU fishing is estimated to cost the economies of West Africa $300m in lost landed catch values, in addition to undermining local fisher livelihoods, fish stock sustainability and associated marine ecosystems. Enhanced regional coordination and cooperation facilitated via the new centre will empower more robust fisheries governance in a region that has long been plagued by illegal activities at sea. Maritime domain awareness more broadly supports cooperation between states and provides a foundation for legal, licensed and regulated activities across all blue economy sectors, including marine protected areas.
Mitigation against IUU fishing and supporting marine science are two of the reasons cited by the Government of Australia in support of their decision this month to designate 740 km² of ocean around Christmas and Cocos Keeling Islands as a new marine protected area (MPA). This is twice the size of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and the move to protect this area, hailed as a globally significant natural wonder and an important contribution to the health of the global ocean, was roundly welcomed by conservation organisations. Described by the Environment Minister as a relatively undisturbed and undiscovered marine treasure, it is hoped the new MPA will support ocean health, scientific research and the blue economy. Balancing the needs of the local fishing communities and other stakeholders in co-designing the new MPA will be critical if it is to deliver triple wins for local people, climate resilience and the marine environment.
Social equity and protection of marine resources are also high on the agenda in Liberia where the First Lady and the Director-General of the National Fisheries and Aquaculture Authority co-launched a nets exchange programme and fishmonger empowerment project in Monrovia, benefitting fishers and those involved in processing and selling fish, 60% of whom are women. The programmes will support sustainable fishing methods and reduction of fish waste to extract more local value.
Development of the local fish value chain also continues apace in Barbados, together with steps to upgrade fish landing and handling facilities around the country and to support fishermen to buy boats via a lease-to-own programme. A new facility in Tent Bay has access for disabled persons, a green space, solar panels on the newly constructed building and directional lighting to avoid attracting nesting turtles into the road. Upon launching the latest new facilities the Prime Minister also congratulated her Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy for securing a US$4.5 million grant to be able to plan Barbados’ maritime spatial area for conservation, in spite of current economic difficulties in securing a larger scale debt-for-nature swap.
Tackling ocean pollution
In South Africa the Forestry, Fisheries and Environment Minister announced as part of her budget measures that for the first time socio-economic impact assessments will be conducted as an integral part of the process of allocating fishing rights, in an effort to be “clean, transparent, accountable, transformative and legally defensible”. Marine litter is also high on the national agenda. The Department is supporting municipalities to develop integrated waste management plans and is expanding the Source-to-Sea Programme across 16 coastal districts with the aim of creating 1,600 jobs. The country’s Source-to-Sea Programme is a multi-stakeholder initiative to address water pollution and restore river corridors so that they are ecologically, socially and economically sustainable.
Malta’s Environment Minister has also announced new measures to tackle marine pollution. New sea bins will trap marine litter for analysis to inform future measures and clean-ups on land and in marine protected areas will be undertaken, along with monitoring of the seabed to identify areas to be cleaned. Malta aims to be amongst the first countries to ban certain single-use plastic products in the EU, having banned the importation of plastic bags, cutlery, straws, plates, cotton buds, food containers, and stirrers in January 2021 and with a plan to ban the sale of single-use-plastics in Malta as from January of next year.
The Government of Canada has also moved a step closer to a ban on single-use plastics, after it elected to classify plastic as a toxic substance this month under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA). The decision was supported by a 2020 scientific assessment which found ample evidence that plastic harms life within the marine environment. Substances can be considered toxic under the CEPA if they harm the environment and biodiversity, human health, or both. Canada is among the 14 member countries of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean which have all committed to fully sustainable management of their Exclusive Economic Zones – in Canada’s case, 5.6 million km² of ocean – by 2025. Tackling marine pollution head-on is a core activity to deliver on this goal.
Finally to the greatest ocean polluter of all, atmospheric carbon dioxide, the driver of sea level rise, ocean acidification and ocean warming. As Portugal’s Minister of the Sea argues the link between the oceans and the climate should be enshrined in the country’s Basic Law on Climate, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean Peter Thomson reminds us that the ocean is the great regulator of climate and calls for an exponential increase in the share of climate finance going into the sustainable blue economy over the next decade. “Solutions to our problems become clearer when viewed through a blue lens”.
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