Blue Charter action group aims to strengthen marine protection

Commonwealth countries are joining forces to improve how they protect the ocean, as part of the voluntary actions being rolled out under the ground-breaking Commonwealth Blue Charter.

The Blue Charter is an agreement by all 53 member countries to actively cooperate to protect ocean health and promote good ocean governance, with nine action groups to date set up to coordinate action around key ocean issues.

Seychelles champions the action group on marine protected areas (MPAs) – essential conservation zones where human activities such as fishing and tourism are restricted. The inaugural meeting of the action group was hosted in the capital, Victoria, on 4-7 November.

Principal Secretary for Environment at Seychelles’ Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Alain de Comarmond, said: “The first meeting of the action group was a great success, where we had active participation and contribution from the countries and partners present. It has certainly set the tone and momentum to move the priorities identified in our action plan forward.”

More than one-third of all marine waters under national jurisdiction are part of the Commonwealth.

At least 15 per cent of the ocean within the Commonwealth is protected for conservation. This surpasses the current UN target to conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by next year.

Seychelles has already protected about 26 per cent of its waters, and is on track to achieve 30 per cent in the coming months.  Along with the United Kingdom and others, it is part of the drive to raise the ambition for marine protection to 30 per cent by 2030.

Commonwealth Blue Charter lead Jeff Ardron said: “Protecting a greater amount of the ocean is essential for safeguarding coastal resources for future generations and building climate resilience.

“At this meeting, we have discussed how to make this work in practice through management plans, enforcement, and long-term financing. Without paying attention to these sorts of details, our protected areas will not really be protected.”

The event was opened by Minister for Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Wallace Cosgrow. Government officials were joined by non-governmental representatives, including from the Pew Charitable Trusts, Oceana, The Nature Conservancy and the ocean research foundation Nekton.

Participants drafted key points of an action plan, agreeing to learn from one another’s experiences, while testing and scaling up the effective management of MPAs. They discussed partnerships to strengthen capacity, mobilise funding and raise awareness across all sectors of society. Finally, they explored institutional frameworks for the establishment, management, monitoring and enforcement of MPAs.

To date, 16 countries have joined the action group, including: Seychelles (Chair); The Bahamas; Barbados; Belize; Dominica; The Gambia; Ghana; Jamaica; Kiribati; Papua New Guinea; Samoa; Sri Lanka; St Kitts and Nevis; Tonga; the UK and Vanuatu.

Secretary-General hails progress on mangrove action

Secretary-General Patricia Scotland celebrated new in-roads made by Sri Lanka, chair of the Commonwealth’s Blue Charter Action Group on mangroves, by planting a mangrove plant in the country’s famous Koggala Lagoon.

The area is home to 10 out of the 22 true mangrove species found in Sri Lanka, and the site of extensive mangrove restoration efforts involving local communities, businesses and the government.

With about a quarter of the population living on 1300km of coastline, Sri Lanka’s mangroves are vital for the safety and livelihoods of coastal communities.

Ms Scotland said: “I am very pleased and proud that Sri Lanka has made the decision to lead the Blue Charter Group on mangroves.

“This work is going to be of pivotal importance if we are to achieve the aspirations set out in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, for reducing carbon and turning our globe into somewhere which is truly sustainable for our children in the future.”

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is an agreement made by all 53 member states to work actively together to tackle ocean-related challenges.

Currently, twelve ‘champion countries’ lead nine action groups made of like-minded nations, who pursue joint strategies and action on issues like marine pollution, climate change andcoral reef restoration.

Sri Lanka champions the action group on mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods, which held its first meeting last month in Negombo.

Members include Sri Lanka (Champion), Australia, Bahamas, Bangladesh, Jamaica, Kenya, Nigeria, Trinidad and Tobago, Vanuatu and the UK.

Director General of Ocean Affairs, Environment and Climate Change at Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, HasanthiUrugodawatte Dissanayake, said: “Since holding our action group’s inaugural meeting on 7-9 October, Sri Lanka has demarcated 14,000 hectares of land which includes thousands of hectares to be allocated for mangroves.

“Above all, it is creating a common understanding of contribution of mangrove ecosystems to livelihoods and as a carbon sink.”

The country also made a voluntary commitment at the global ocean summit recently held in Oslo, Norway – the ‘Our Ocean’ conference – to identify all potential suitable areas for mangrove restoration and design a way to replant trees in these areas by 2030.

Sri Lanka also plans to expand its task force for mangrove restoration to engage all stakeholders from government, private sector and community based organisations.

The Secretary-General’s visit was hosted by the Sri Lankan Ministry of Foreign Affairs in collaboration with the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, and the INSEE Cement Company – a green cement producer currently carrying out mangrove planting of around 4,500 plants in the Koggala Lagoon area.