Seychelles Steps Forward as Commonwealth Champion for Marine Protection

Efforts to protect the ocean have received a major boost with the announcement that Seychelles will lead a Commonwealth Blue Charter action group on marine protected areas.

Seychelles is the latest and 12th country to step forward as a Commonwealth Blue Charter Champion country.

The announcement was made at the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi, Kenya.

Seychelles’ Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries, Charles Bastienne, spoke at a side-event on the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

“Seychelles wishes to lead the group because of the great progress we have made at the national and regional level in the establishment and management of marine protected areas.

“The government of Seychelles believes that in order to compliment the adoption of the Blue Charter and also to achieve sustainable development, Seychelles – being a small island developing state – must play a pivotal role in preserving and protecting our seas and oceans at all costs”.

Last week, Seychelles extended its planned protected areas to an impressive 26 per cent of the country’s 1.4 million km2 exclusive economic zone (EEZ), building on the 16 per cent it protected earlier this year.

The new marine protected areas are based on the Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan – a first in the Indian Ocean area.

The areas protected are important for biodiversity conservation, as well as for tourism and fishing. They include islands that are important breeding areas for endangered marine species, such as the remote Aldabra group of islands.

Other action group members updated delegates on their activities, including progress from the UK and Vanuatu on the Clean Ocean Alliance, from Cyprus on aquaculture, from Sri Lanka on mangrove restoration and from Kenya on the blue economy.

Nick Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said: “I strongly encourage other Commonwealth countries to follow the lead of Seychelles and their other counterparts in this vital Blue Charter initiative. Now is the time to take action to protect and sustainably manage the ocean, now is the time to join up.

“The wellbeing and livelihoods of billions of people depend on the health of the world’s marine environment. We must act now to safeguard this one ocean for our children and their children”.

During a panel discussion at the side event, panellists from the African Union, UN Environment, the Indian Ocean Rim Association, the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community stressed the need for regional cooperation on ocean sustainability.

Kenyan designers bring sea change to global fashion industry

Seventy-one per cent of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, and some forward-looking fashion designers think it could be a new frontier for their industry.

They’re convinced that oceans, seas and lakes have untapped potential that could give fashion a 21st Century makeover.

Jackets made from fish skin, skirts of seaweed and accessories adorned with shiny fish scales were just some of the unconventional outfits modelled at the new-look Blue Fashion event in Nairobi, Kenya.

The fashion industry is one of the largest polluting industries in the world and so-called ‘fast fashion’ brings with it many hidden environmental costs.

So, designers and producers inspired by the marine environment and supported by the Commonwealth as part of its work on the blue economy – in partnership with FAO and the Nordic Atlantic Co-operation –  were determined to make a splash with their colourful, creations, sourced sustainably from beneath the waves.

Designer Deepa Dosaja’s range of clothing and accessories titled “Conscious” received rapturous applause from the audience.

She said: “This year we have dived even deeper to understand both the social and environmental impact that fashion has on our planet.

“The dyes we use can be very hazardous to marine life as well as the micro plastic fibres used in the production of synthetic fabrics.  Not to forget the harmful pesticides and chemicals used to produce these fibres.

“By 2020, we are committed to using sustainable GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard) certified fabrics and environmentally-friendly adornments for our collections,” she added, as a model wearing her signature fish skin leather jacket paraded up and down the catwalk.

Blue Fashion showcased the talents of four designers who worked with fish skins and scales provided by Victoria Foods, and were by-products of their manufacturing process.

Daniel Hatton of the Commonwealth Fashion council said: “This particular project shows the willingness of manufacturers to seek new financial models.

“Victoria Foods have identified a new market and adapted their business model to enter the blue fashion market. This has enabled women and youths to learn new skills and allowed the region to diversify its work force towards the blue agenda creating wealth and opportunity”.

Jeff Ardron, who leads the Commonwealth Blue Charter initiative, was impressed by the level of ingenuity and innovation on display.

“The local designs, models, and materials, brought the blue economy message to the conference in a very tangible way,” he said.

“And the delegates loved it.”

New action on oceans to be revealed at Kenya conference

Further support for the Commonwealth’s vital initiative to protect the world’s oceans, seas and lakes will be announced at a side event of the Sustainable Blue Economy Conference in Nairobi, Kenya, on 27 November 2018.

Details of a new action group will be announced, adding momentum to the agreement reached at the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London last April.  The new group will address marine protected areas.

To date, eleven Commonwealth countries have stepped forward to lead on eight different topic areas relevant to sustainable ocean development and conservation, with a new ninth topic area to be announced.

Current action groups and champion countries include:

Action Group Champions
1.      Aquaculture Cyprus
2.      Blue economy Kenya
3.      Coral reef protection and restoration Australia, Belize, Mauritius
4.      Mangrove restoration Sri Lanka
5.       Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance (Marine plastics) UK, Vanuatu
6.      Ocean acidification New Zealand
7.      Ocean and climate change Fiji
8.      Ocean observations Canada

Priorities and actions are member-driven, led by Commonwealth Blue Charter Champion countries that have voluntarily taken the lead.

Kenya is championing the Blue Economy – an action group focusing on the exploitation and maintenance of a healthy marine environment, and is inviting more than 6,000 participants from around the world to its first global sustainable Blue Economy Conference.

“The enthusiasm we are getting from governments and the public has really far exceeded our expectations,” comments Jeff Ardron, who leads the Blue Charter project for the Commonwealth Secretariat. “Clearly, the Ocean’s time has arrived.”

At the event, each of the eight action groups will report on their activities and progress and a panel discussion on regional cooperation among member countries will follow.

New partnership to explore ocean depths

A new partnership between the Commonwealth and Nekton will support scientific exploration of the Indian Ocean in Commonwealth countries of the region, for enhanced ocean governance.

The memorandum of understanding signed on 15 November 2018 at Marlborough House by the Commonwealth’s Director of Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources, Paulo Kautoke and the CEO of the Nekton Foundation, Oliver Steeds, is expected to boost actions under the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a joint commitment by member countries to protect the ocean and sustainably manage its resources.

Partners will be able to use scientific data gathered to strengthen ocean governance as well as harness and sustain the blue economies in the Indian Ocean. Marine scientists and ocean managers from the region will also benefit from capacity-building, networking and knowledge-exchange programmes.

“This collaboration kick starts the ‘Friends of Blue Charter’, which includes like-minded collaborators and partners who care about the ocean and recognise its importance to life on this planet. Commonwealth host countries will benefit through the development of tools, skills, knowledge and networks to empower their actions on long-term sustainable management and governance of ocean resources,” said Mr. Kautoke.

“The agreement that we’ve signed is to support the implementation of the Blue Charter. Our joint goal is to gather the actionable data that is needed to inform the legal, political and economic sustainable development of the blue economies of the Indian Ocean, but also more widely across the world,” added Mr. Steeds.

The Nekton Deep Ocean Research Institute is a new marine research organisation dedicated to exploring and protecting the deep ocean. The Nekton Indian Ocean Mission planned for 2019-2022 aims to improve scientific knowledge of the Indian Ocean and catalyse its sustainable governance. Three research expeditions will be deployed in distinct regions of the Indian Ocean, beginning in Seychelles in 2019, backed by an alliance of additional partners, including the UK Government, Omega, Kensington Tours, University of Oxford, International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and The Associated Press.

The Commonwealth Secretariat will be appointed to an expedition steering committee that will help to plan Nekton expeditions, and take part in training, capacity-building and promotional activities.

Commonwealth countries rally behind ocean action

A gathering hosted by the New Zealand High Commission at the Royal Academy of Arts in London on Monday, heard widespread support for the various action groups under the Blue Charter, which was unveiled by Commonwealth leaders at their last meeting in April.

Actions groups are led by ‘champion countries’ and focus on eight key areas: marine plastic pollution, blue economy, coral reef protection and restoration, mangroves, ocean acidification, ocean and climate change, ocean observations and aquaculture.

New Zealand Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage called the Blue Charter initiative a “model for bold, coordinated leadership.” As champion for the action group on ocean acidification,

New Zealand will focus on building a better understanding of the issue, identifying challenges, and connecting Commonwealth countries to ocean acidification networks.

“We are really impressed and pleased by the many Commonwealth countries that are involved in the action group [on ocean acidification],” said Hon Sage, acknowledging Australia, Barbados, Canada, Mozambique, Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the UK.

Thérèse Coffey, Parliamentary Under Secretary at the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Areas added: “The Blue Charter is so important, not only for Commonwealth countries, but for the entire world… I’m really proud to be working with Vanuatu taking forward action on the Clean Oceans Alliance and I’m very proud that we’re also joining other action groups.”

Alongside Vanuatu, the UK leads the action group on marine pollution, which includes 20 members in total from all regions of the Commonwealth.

“This is something that the Commonwealth can celebrate. I’m really pleased the Commonwealth Secretariat is continuing to make sure that these things come through, but together as nations we really can be champions for something that is exceptionally precious to us,” she said.

Special guest at the event, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Oceans, Peter Thomson, commended the “wave of ocean action” in the international community, and encouraged collaboration with the United Nations Communities on Ocean Action.

Delegates from Fiji and Australia also made presentations on their countries’ ocean activities. Fiji leads the action group on ocean and climate change, and is planning an event on the Blue Charter in the margins of the UN Climate Change Conference COP24, to be held in Poland in December.

Commonwealth Director of Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources, Paulo Kautoke recognised the crucial role of the ocean in Commonwealth economies, cultures and communities, and called on governments as well as non-government organisations to join the action groups and intensify collaboration on ocean issues.