A new policy handbook, launched today, will help Commonwealth governments put in place strategies to tackle ocean acidification – a key aspect of climate change.
Ocean acidification happens when the sea absorbs excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, primarily caused by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.
This leads to an increase in the acidity of the ocean, affecting the lifecycles and biology of certain marine species, and in turn, threatening the entire food web as well as the lives and livelihoods of communities that depend on these ocean resources.
Tackling this challenge requires technical expertise and capacity that are often not available in Commonwealth countries. The new handbook addresses this gap by identifying existing resources, streamlining technical concepts, outlining pragmatic solutions and providing useful templates for policy makers.
The Foreign Affairs Minister of New Zealand, Nanaia Mahuta said:
“We know that ocean acidification has serious consequences for sea life, and this Policymakers’ Handbook for Addressing the Impacts of Ocean Acidification is an important resource. It is designed for people who make decisions about how we use and protect our oceans. It introduces them to the steps needed to address ocean acidification. It enables them to act as ‘kaitiaki’ or guardians.”
“The study of ocean acidification and its effects has grown dramatically in the past 15 years, and while the problem is global, it is important for national and regional responses to be developed to address local impacts. The handbook has the potential to deliver far-reaching and lasting value, by supporting the identification and implementation by policymakers of response strategies to ocean acidification.”
A particular focus in the handbook is on collaboration, which is a distinctive feature of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement adopted in 2018 by the 54 Commonwealth member countries to work together to solve ocean challenges.
The Commonwealth Blue Charter is implemented through 10 action groups led by 15 “champion countries”, which focus on guiding the development of knowledge, tools and training on ocean priorities such as marine plastic pollution, ocean climate change, and the sustainable blue economy.
Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, said:
“This new handbook is an example of the concrete and practical outcomes that are generated by the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups and their discussions. While we all understand the grave threats that confront the ocean – and consequently, the entire planet – we must also realise that we, as the global community, can do something about it, by working together to share expertise, pool resources and align national and regional strategies to existing global commitments.”
The launch of this publication follows on the first-ever workshop by the Commonwealth Ocean Acidification Action Group, hosted in 2019 by New Zealand in its role as Champion Country for the group. The workshop included discussions among scientific experts and observers, joined by government officials from 17 Commonwealth countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, New Zealand, Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Tonga, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, and Vanuatu. They identified strategies to address the impacts of ocean acidification, including marine monitoring, capacity development, ocean literacy, governance, and management.
To celebrate Earth Day on 22 April, the Commonwealth Secretariat and Satellite Applications Catapult are launching the first-ever Hack the Planet competition, in search of innovative, impactful and scalable ideas that will tackle the threats facing communities around the world, linked to ocean degradation and the climate crisis.
Virtual ideas competition
The virtual ideas competition will advance outstanding home-grown solutions from across 54 Commonwealth countries, targeting some of the world’s most pressing ocean-related challenges, such as eliminating plastic pollution, accelerating sustainable energy uptake, climate change, developing sustainable ‘blue’ approaches for the ocean economy and protecting nature in marine areas.
With £10,000 in prize money to be won, the competition will encourage entrants to utilise and explore the information and connectivity available from satellites as part of their ideas.
Announcing the initiative, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said:
“The Commonwealth is an extremely diverse group of 54 countries, including some of the smallest and most vulnerable in the world, that have made a shared commitment under the Commonwealth Blue Charter to work together to tackle ocean-related challenges.
“I am therefore encouraged by the sheer range of possibilities this competition will open up to identify new and improved ideas on how to address ocean sustainability. We look forward to receiving ideas from individuals, teams, and organisations from across our regions, which we could then support and amplify globally.”
Lucy Edge, Chief Operating Officer at the Satellite Applications Catapult added:
“It’s a wonderful and rare opportunity for people around the Commonwealth to come together and develop innovative ideas into world-changing concepts that take significant and measurable steps towards solving some of the world’s biggest ocean challenges.”
The deadline for online submissions is 31st May 2021. The theme of the competition is closely aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 14 (ocean), 13 (climate) and 7 (energy).
Specific examples of issues that could be addressed include those covered by the Commonwealth Blue Charter: marine plastic pollution, coral reef protection and restoration, mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods, marine protected areas, ocean acidification, ocean and climate change, ocean observations, sustainable aquaculture and sustainable coastal fisheries.
In the second phase of the competition, 30 shortlisted teams will be invited to participate in a knowledge exchange programme where they will learn about satellite technologies and elements of design thinking that could support their ideas, and hone these into robust, compelling pitches. The training and support provided during the knowledge exchange programme will be highly valuable and will support participants to improve their ideas with the help of a wide variety of industry experts.
Six finalists will be selected to pitch their ideas live in front of a panel of judges. The winner of the competition will receive £10,000 and the announcement of the results will take place at a final showcase event in October 2021.
For details on how to enter, visit HackThePlanetCompetition.com (live from 22 April) or or download the media toolkit.
New Zealand, as the Champion for the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Ocean Acidification has developed a Handbook to support policymakers’ efforts to identify and implement ocean acidification response strategies. This handbook will be unveiled at a special web event in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Key recommendations from the handbook will be presented to highlight region-specific actions and implementation plans and will consist of comments from the panellists followed by a general Q & A with the audience.
Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Foreign Affairs New Zealand (video remarks)
Dr Nick Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans & Natural Resources, Commonwealth Secretariat (mod.)
Dr Christina McGraw, Chair – New Zealand Ocean Acidification Community Council and Senior Lecturer, University of Otaga
Dr Jacqueline Uku, President – WIOMSA, Kenya Marine & Fisheries Research Institute (Session I)
Jessie Turner, Project Manager, Secretariat for the OA Alliance (Session I)
Alexis Valauri-Orton, Program Officer, The Ocean Foundation (Session II)
Dr R Duncan McIntosh, Oceanography Officer, SPREP (Session II)
The climate emergency, demonstrated through ever more damaging climatic events across the planet, has intensified the need to attack the major sustainability challenges for life on this planet.
The ocean, as Earth’s primary life support system, is central to tackling these challenges. Covering more than 70% of the planet, it is the ocean that makes this planet liveable and allows people and societies to prosper. It has continually buffered us from the impacts of rising temperatures and rising atmospheric CO 2 levels, but is now itself under threat.
Virtual ideas competition
Hack the Planet is an entirely virtual international ideas competition that will bring together ideas from diverse communities living on the front-line in facing the challenges of the climate emergency and ocean sustainability across the Commonwealth, together with the technical resources to support the innovation of new solutions.
The competition aims to stimulate discussion around the development of new concepts relating to the sustainability of the ocean, incorporating satellite data and technologies. Solutions will be aligned to the 10 action areas of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.
The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences. To share your own case study, please contact us.
“The process of assigning management categories to our national parks will help facilitate the planning of protected areas and protected area systems managed by BNT and other agencies, improve information management about protected areas and assist to regulate activities within protected areas.”
Eric Carey, Executive Director, Bahamas National Trust¹
At its first meeting, the Commonwealth Blue Charter Marine Protected Area (MPA) Action Group identified training on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protected area management categories as one of its capacity development needs. Each protected area should be assigned to one of these categories, and governments should provide information on categories when submitting data on protected areas to the World Database of Protected Areas. IUCN has produced detailed guidance on the categories but there are few documented examples of the assignment process.
As part of the process to improve the management and expansion of The Bahamas MPA network, the Bahamas National Trust (BNT), with the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) and the Clifton Heritage Authority, undertook a process to assign IUCN protected area management categories to all sites under its purview, through a series of workshops in 2014.
Recommendations for categories for all designated protected areas, including MPAs, were made. This case study explains the purpose of the categories and the assignment process used in The Bahamas. Although the recommendations are still awaiting adoption and formalisation, this initiative provides useful lessons learnt and demonstrates the challenges involved.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protected area management categories were designed with the aim of providing a tool to help with planning protected area systems; to encourage the development of protected area systems that include a range of conservation objectives tailored to national and local circumstances; to help global and regional data centres collect and report on conservation efforts; and to facilitate comparisons between countries.
The category assigned to a protected area must reflect the primary management objective(s) of the site. A category gives direction to site management and helps ensure that a protected area is designed and managed to meet its intended purpose. For example, if a development such as a tourism operation is proposed for a protected area, its category needs to be considered in case the development will prevent achievement of the protected area objectives. Since each protected area has its own goals and objectives, each site is likely to have a different management strategy, and the category helps ensure appropriate measures are implemented. Without categorisation, management may drift away from the original aim of the site. All the categories are important and a successful protected area network is likely to include sites of different categories.
Assigning categories can be difficult if there are multiple objectives and values for a site, as is often the case, or if the objectives are evolving and complex. IUCN provides guidance on assigning categories for all types of protected areas (Dudley, 2008), as well as specific guidance for Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) (Day, 2019), since the marine environment has certain unique characteristics. Both of these documents should be used for MPAs (given that the general guidance explains the key principles underlying the categories).
As part of the national effort to meet its commitments under the Caribbean Challenge Initiative (CCI), the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) decided to assign categories to its protected areas. The CCI was launched in 20082 to promote the protection and management of the marine and coastal environment with a goal of effective management of at least 20 per cent of a country’s nearshore and marine environment by 2020. The Bahamas was one of the first governments to participate, signing the Declaration in 2013. The 2012 Master Plan for the Bahamas National Protected Areas System (BNPAS) (Moultrie, 2012) had laid out a process to achieve this, and a series of research programmes and gap analyses were undertaken subsequently.
The Bahamas MPA network, currently covering just over 10 per cent of its territorial waters, has sites ranging from highly protected fishery replenishment areas to marine managed areas with multiple zones that allow varying levels of human interaction and extraction. Four MPAs are marine reserves and are managed by the Department of Marine Resources (DMR); a number are managed by the BNT; and those declared in 2015 have yet to be assigned a management agency. A three-year project, Bahamas Protected: Realising the 2020 Goal to Effectively Manage and Expand Bahamian Marine Protected Areas (Knowles et al., 2017), produced recommendations for 43 new and/or expanded MPAs to meet the 20 per cent area target; the BNT and its partners have submitted these (Anderson et al., 2018) to The Bahamian government and they are currently in the pipeline for approval.
As a component of the overall process, it was decided to assign the IUCN categories to ensure that the protected area system was aligned with international standards. It was also felt that formalised management categories would help address the increasing trend, in the Caribbean, towards de-gazetting protected areas, a consequence of rapid economic development.
The IUCN guidance was used in designing the categorisation process. Workshops took participants through a sequence of exercises aimed at both ensuring a good understanding of the objectives of each site and building skills in decision-making using the categories.
Participants came from all the organisations involved in supporting, establishing and managing protected areas: BNT, DMR, the Department of Forestry, The Nature Conservancy Bahamas (TNC), The Bahamas Environment Science and Technology Commission, the Antiquities, Monuments and Museums Corporation and Clifton Heritage National Park.
A three-stage process was used, that took place over a nine-month period:
Workshop 1: Issues identified; management categories and their role as an adaptive tool discussed; context of protected areas reviewed;
Workshop 2: Issues and context identified in Workshop 1 organised into a conceptual framework;
Workshop 3: Decisions made on potential categories; future activities identified in terms of requirements for new competencies, capacity and legal processes; process for completion
The last workshop doubled as a knowledge-sharing exercise and had participants from six other Caribbean islands – five Commonwealth countries (Grenada, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Trinidad and Tobago) and one other (Dominican Republic).
Partnerships and support
The BNPAS categorisation workshops were undertaken in 2014 and were facilitated and sponsored by the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management (BIOPAMA) programme, which is an initiative of the Organization of Africa, Caribbean and Pacific States, funded by the European Union under the 10th European Development Fund. IUCN and the European Commission Joint Research Centre implemented the process. Funding totalled about €48,000 and covered IUCN staff time, costs of the workshops, travel, accommodation and per diems.
Results, accomplishments and outcomes
At the final categorisation workshop, agreement was reached on proposed categories for all designated protected areas (BNT, 2014), as shown in Annex 1 and summarised below:
In 2019, the BNT Council, which is a member of IUCN and responsible for this part of the process, approved the recommendations for the proposed categories, which are currently awaiting formalisation and implementation, at which stage the categories will be reported to the WorldDatabase on Protected Areas. Although the workshop developed a process for classification of new protected areas, categories were not proposed for the MPAs designated in 2015; these sites have not yet been assigned to a management agency and it is recognised that category assignment is best undertaken in the course of preparing the management plans.
COVID-19: The greatest current environmental, as well as economic and social, challenge for The Bahamas, as for most countries, is recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. All countries and MPAs around the world have suffered a massive negative impact. With the cessation of tourism, many sources of income have dried up. MPA managers have had to focus on ensuring the safety and security of their staff. Reduced visitor numbers and disrupted supply chains for fishery products have significantly affected the livelihoods of local communities that may normally both depend on and help manage MPAs. MPA management is focusing down on core operations to maintain basic functioning. However, there is consensus that effectively managed MPAs will be more resilient and that a sustainable managed ocean, encompassing MPA networks of adequate size, will be an essential component of recovery. This pandemic, combined with the devastation to the northern Bahama islands by Hurricane Dorian in 2019, has left the country in a position where unfortunately environmental considerations are a lower priority than the environment.
The workshop participants found that some concepts behind the categorisation process were complex, and that, despite the IUCN guidance, definitions and terms were not necessarily easily understood. The technical advice and training provided by BIOPAMA was therefore invaluable. Training was needed for managers, wardens/ rangers, fisheries superintendents and others involved in the assignment process and tasked with subsequently interpreting the categories for other stakeholders.
The stakeholder engagement and workshop process needs careful design and facilitation to ensure that developers, investors and others with a vested interest do not influence the assignment process and reduce the level of ambition at a site for biodiversity protection.
As IUCN categories are assigned according to the objectives of a protected area; they do not necessarily reflect the name of the site or level of protection. This is clearly demonstrated by this example for The Bahamas, where most MPAs are called either national parks (used in the IUCN guidance for Category II sites) or marine reserves (Category I sites in the IUCN Guidance). The BNT plans to retain the current branding of national parks and on-going marketing approaches, thus clear explanations of Categories I and II sites will be needed. This issue of terminology will also need to be addressed as the proposed new MPAs are designated.
The other Commonwealth countries that participated in the final workshop have also had difficulties assigning categories and have found the process challenging. Categories have been assigned to all the sites in the Saint Lucia national protected area systems plan, but legislation to formalise this has not been implemented, and the other countries have not yet completed the process.
Key lessons learnt
The Bahamas process has validated much of the guidance provided for assigning the IUCN protected area management categories in terms of:
The need to involve key stakeholders, and base the assessment on best available natural and social The three workshops were designed to ensure enough time for assimilation of information and also to facilitate the research and analysis required.
The need to carefully assess the MPA objectives before assigning a IUCN category; this has additional value in that it can help with development or revision of a management plan and identification of appropriate management measures for a site.
As is recognised widely, the management categories are primarily a tool for protected area management agencies and the international conservation community, to help focus on objectives and to develop well-balanced frameworks for MPA systems. They do not lend themselves very well to use in external communications – a problem identified in many countries – except perhaps where they could help explain regulations and management interventions for a particular site.
Given this challenge, workshop participants discussed the possibility of creating new categories specifically for The Bahamas. In fact, this issue had been addressed, and resolved, previously. In the 1980s, when the protected area system was being expanded in The Bahamas, three broad categories were adopted: national park, protected area and national reserve. Over time, these names started to determine which agency managed a site, rather than the objectives of the site. A widely understood national “branding” for protected areas thus became established, as happens in many countries. However, the value of adopting the IUCN categories was also understood, since it provides a mechanism to align protected areas with international standards. It was nevertheless considered important to retain the existing naming system and so the management category, once agreed, is placed in brackets after the protected area name. Thus, for example, “national parks” in The Bahamas are those sites managed by the BNT but they have a variety of objectives that are reflected in their categories that help determine management.
Anderson, L., Dahlgren, C., Knowles, L., Jupp, L. et al. (2018) “Bahamas Protected: 20 by 20 White Paper: Marine Protection Plan for Expanding The Bahamas Marine Protected Area Network”. Proposal Prepared for the Office of the Prime Minister, Ministry of Environment and Housing and the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources
BNT (2014) “2014 Protected Areas Management Categories Analysis for the Bahamas January– September”. Final Report.
Day, J., Dudley, N., Hockings, M., Holmes, G. et al. (eds) (2019) Guidelines for Applying the IUCN Protected AreaManagement Categories to Marine Protected Areas. 2nd Edition. Gland: IUCN.
Dudley, N. (eds) (2008) Guidelines for Applying ProtectedAreaManagementCategories. Gland: IUCN. Updated as Stolton, S., Shadie, P. and Dudley, N. (2013) IUCNWCPABest Practice Guidance on Recognising Protected Areasand Assigning Management Categories and GovernanceTypes. Best Practice Protected Area Guidelines Series No. 21. Gland: IUCN.
Moultrie, S. (2012) “Master Plan for The Bahamas National Protected Area System”. Nassau: The Nature Conservancy, Northern Caribbean Office.
Knowles, J.E., Green, A.L., Dahlgren, C., Arnett, F. and Knowles, L. (2017) “Expanding The Bahamas Marine Protected Area Network to Protect 20% of the Marine and Coastal Environment by 2020”. A Gap Analysis.
Women working in the ocean sector across the Commonwealth have been applauded for breaking gender barriers in traditionally male-dominated industries, laying the groundwork for more gender equity in ocean science.
An inspiring line up of women shared their professional struggles and triumphs, while offering advice for the Commonwealth’s next generation of female marine experts, during a virtual event marking International Women’s Day and Commonwealth Day in March.
The webinar, organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, opened with Secretary-General Patricia Scotland urging countries to support women’s participation in the sector:
“We need women to be inspired early in their careers to take up ocean science and to be encouraged to maintain their engagement. None of our nations or communities can afford to disregard the skills women and girls have to offer.”
The Maldives’ Minister of Fisheries, Marine Resources and Agriculture, Zaha Waheed recounted her own early career experience as the only female trainee in a research team of men.
She said that while the gender gap has improved in her country – both the Minister and Permanent Secretary of marine resources are women, for example – cultural obstacles remain.
“Our main barrier is attributed to the attitudes and beliefs within our communities – the belief that this is a masculine industry, and that anything to do with the open ocean environment – diving or going to the field for research, is not for girls,” said Hon Waheed.
Tackling this stereotype head on is Emily Penn, a skipper and ocean advocate. She founded the pioneering non-profit eXXpedition, which runs all-female sailing research expeditions at sea and online, to investigate the causes of and solutions to ocean plastic pollution.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made us really aware of our vulnerability, [in terms of] our health, our environment, our economy and our politics. We have a chance right now to embrace our global shift moment and to take this moment to reset our priorities,” she said.
Acting Director of the Institute of Marine Affairs of Trinidad and Tobago, Rahanna Juman, shared how hard work and perseverance helped her succeed in the face of various challenges over her 25-year career.
“Research is about passion and purpose. The reason why I have been able to survive and grow as a female scientist is because I love what I do,” said Dr Juman.
Fellow panellist and Acting Deputy Chief Fisheries Officer in Antigua and Barbuda, Tricia Lovell, echoed the focus on passion in her advice to early-career women scientists.
As a PhD candidate at the World Maritime University, she said: “Find what makes you passionate and motivated and always seek opportunities for learning… To remain relevant and to make an impact in the ocean sciences, you must be knowledgeable of the current trends.”
Gender equity report
The event also highlighted a recently-published report titled ‘Gender Equity in Ocean Science’, funded by the Government of Canada as the Commonwealth Blue Charter Champion on Ocean Observations.
The report found that women are under-represented globally in the field of ocean science, particularly in leadership positions. A “leaky pipeline” phenomenon also meant that academic qualifications do not always translate into successful careers for women. While they make up 53% of total Bachelor’s and Master’s degree holders in the world, women only constitute 28% of senior researchers.
Presenting the report, Dr Arran McPherson, Assistant Deputy Minister at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, stated: “Promoting gender equity in all scientific fields is a priority for Canada. In ocean science in particular, we’ve been trying to shine a spotlight on specific challenges that women face, and at the same time highlight role models and opportunities for action.”
Recommendations included ensuring gender equity in decision-making, creating opportunities for mentoring and leadership for women, co-creating ocean science management plans with women and collecting gender-disaggregated data for the sector. The report also called for more capacity building and exchange programmes, as well as support for gender allies.