ACU Blue Charter fellowships

Ten emerging scientists have been awarded fellowships at top Commonwealth universities to explore innovative ways to tackle plastic litter in the ocean.

The Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) announced the second cohort of the Blue Charter fellowship programme this week, which aims to advance the Commonwealth’s shared commitment to preserve and nurture the ocean.

ACU Chief Executive and Secretary General Joanna Newman said: “We are so proud to have the opportunity to launch a second cohort of Blue Charter Fellows – a group of outstanding researchers from universities across the Commonwealth.

“We look forward to showcasing the results that will make a difference in tackling one of the most pressing global issues of our time.”

Each researcher will spend up to six months in an ACU member institution, as well as in industry, devising new ways to clean up marine litter, prevent plastics from getting into the sea, and developing alternatives to plastics.

The awards are funded by the UK’s Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy [BEIS] and supermarket chain Waitrose & Partners, supported by the Commonwealth.

Award recipient Taiwo Hammed said the fellowship could help make a difference in his community in Lagos, the fastest-growing mega-city in Nigeria. Through the programme, he will be exploring just how much plastic enters the ocean through lagoons and drains, why they end up in the water, what risks they create for humans and the environment, and how to sensitise the community on sustainable plastic waste management.

Dr Hammed said: “By the end of this fellowship, the targeted communities along coastline in Nigeria would have become a role model in the country. The transformation would surely arouse the interest of policy makers across the world to think locally and act globally.”

New fellow Shantanu Saha will be researching coconut husk cutlery, as a substitute for plastic knives and forks in Bangladesh. This includes market research and recommendations for developing policies for sustainable cutlery.

Dr Saha said: “Learning from the sustainable campus initiatives of a renowned UK university would help me to work on how that can be applied at Universities in Bangladesh. My research would help to develop valuable sustainable policies when the world is concerned about the environmental impact of the use of plastic materials.”

Other research topics include the use of plastic waste as feedstock to generate solar fuel and managing plastic use sustainably in the fishing industry.

Each fellow is entitled to up to £14,000 to cover travel, accommodation and daily needs. Research grants of up to £4,000 will also be awarded.

Commonwealth Head of Ocean and Natural Resources Nicholas Hardman-Mountford said: “The Commonwealth Blue Charter is about realising our shared aspirations for the ocean in ways that make real impact, and offering concrete, scientifically-backed solutions to the challenges we face. We therefore welcome the new cohort of fellows and look forward to the tangible applications of their research.”

Full list of Blue Charter fellows:

  • Dr Steven Barrow (Australia)
  • Dr Timothy Biswisk (Malawi)
  • Miss Takunda Chitaka (South Africa)
  • Ms Freya Croft (Australia)
  • Dr Taiwo Hammed (Nigeria)
  • Dr Oluwarotimi Olofinnade (Nigeria)
  • Dr Shantanu Saha (Bangladesh)
  • Prof. Salom Gnana Thanga Vincent (India)
  • Dr Ubida Ubida (Nigeria)
  • Miss Robyn Wright (United Kingdom)

Blue Charter group gears up to protect and restore ‘priceless’ coral reefs

Commonwealth countries devoted to saving the world’s coral reefs met in Townsville, Australia this week to outline immediate and long-term actions they can take to ensure the health of coral reef ecosystems.

Studies show more than half the planet’s coral reefs have suffered significant losses over the last 30 years. This could rise to 90 per cent within the next century, if current trends continue.

This harsh reality – mainly due to climate change – disproportionately affects Commonwealth states whose waters include 42 per cent of the world’s coral reefs.

In response, Australia, Belize and Mauritius are co-championing an action group made up of like-minded members that include Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and Vanuatu.

The action group is part of the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a milestone commitment made by the 53 Commonwealth nations to cooperate on sustainable ocean governance.

Hosted by the Australian Institute of Maritime Science (AIMS) from 9 to 11 July, the meeting looked at how countries could make a difference by co-ordinating national, regional and global actions, building on each other’s experiences, and upscaling solutions for in-water action.

AIMS Chief Executive Officer Paul Hardisty said the enormous economic, social and cultural value of coral reef systems is worth the effort, adding: “It’s great to see all these members of the Commonwealth countries out here with a common purpose.  They are tackling how to turn the shared ambition of the Blue Charter into very specific actionable elements – that’s where the critical path to success lies.

“There are some fantastic ideas being shared, looking at values – not only for ecosystem services and economic value but also the cultural and indigenous values of our communities – to come up with tractable methodologies that everyone can share.”

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, for instance, supports 64,000 jobs and generates $6.4 billion each year for the country’s economy through tourism, fishing, recreational and scientific activities.

Globally, more than 500 million people depend directly on coral reefs for food, income and coastal protection. In fact, one square kilometre of healthy, well-managed coral reef can provide more than 15 tonnes of fish and other seafood each year.

Commonwealth Head of Ocean and Natural Resources Nicholas Hardman-Mountford said: “Coral reefs are priceless. They protect our coasts and populations from the devastating impacts of tsunamis and extreme weather disasters, they are home to a quarter of all marine species, and they provide for our livelihoods and well-being.

“For millions of people in the Commonwealth, especially in small island states, coral reefs are integral to their identity and local culture, centred on the ocean. Yet human activities and above all climate change are devastating reefs at unprecedented rates. This is why the work of this action group is vital.”

Delegates discussed ways to improve government policies, build awareness, and empower communities, while also tackling barriers such as lack of funding, limited capacity and weak governance structures.

They highlighted the need for the action group to monitor progress, share information and work with the right partners, including a strategy to engage scientific institutions, governments, private sector and civil society to support coral reef initiatives.

The outcomes of the meeting will contribute to implementing the short, medium and long term goals of the action group.