Case Study: Seychelles – Using Marine Spatial Planning to Meet the 30 Per Cent Marine Protected Areas Target

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“With over 1.35 million km2 of ocean, the people of Seychelles have a direct dependence on our ocean resources for food security and livelihoods. Developing a Marine Spatial Plan is a way of tackling the sustainable development of the ocean for today and future generations.”

Former President Danny Faure¹

 

Source: https://seymsp.
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Summary

Seychelles has long been a leader in biodiversity conservation and, in 2012, when less than 1 per cent of its marine waters were managed in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), the president made an ambitious commitment to protect over 30 per cent by 2020. At the same time, the economic situation meant that there were strong incentives to develop the country’s Blue Economy. Lastly, concerns about the impacts of climate change on this small island developing state were growing because of sea level rise and increasing sea surface temperatures. Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) was therefore adopted as the tool to ensure that, in protecting new areas of ocean, biodiversity goals would be balanced with the requirement for a sustainable national economy. New MPAs, formally announced in March 2020, are a key part of the Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan (SMSP) that will be completed in 2021. The SMSP will also address sustainable use of marine resources in the remaining 70 per cent of ocean and climate change adaptation, and will coordinate appropriate regulatory compliance and unified government oversight of all activities. This case study looks at how MSP has been used to develop the recommendations to expand marine biodiversity protection in Seychelles.

The Issue

In 2012, at the Rio +20 Conference, the Government of Seychelles (GOS) committed to protecting 30 per cent of its 1.35 million km2 marine waters in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs),² as a pledge conditional to raising US$2.5 million/year for a conservation and adaptation fund. At that time, although over 47 per cent of the land was protected, only 0.04 per cent of marine waters were in MPAs. Environmental concerns are firmly entrenched in the Constitution of Seychelles, and the country has multiple policies and strategies to promote, coordinate and integrate sustainable development and to expand biodiversity protection. With such a large ocean area and with over two-thirds of Seychelles’ economy reliant on the ocean, there was a need to develop a marine plan for the country’s ocean space.

The Seychelles Marine Spatial Plan (SMSP) Initiative³ was developed as an integrated, multi-sector approach to address the need to support the Blue Economy (i.e. businesses that rely on ocean resources, marine-based food security and marine livelihoods) with climate change adaptation and biodiversity protection. The SMSP provides information to government and stakeholders about what is allowed and where and identifies the new MPAs.

The response

Marine spatial planning (MSP) is an iterative process that takes place over a number of years, using spatial data and stakeholder participation to create an evidencebased plan. Plans are living documents and, after implementation, are monitored, adapted and revised as new information and data become available, new objectives or values emerge that are important to marine users, and ocean uses and activities change. The SMSP process was designed using United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization guidance⁴ as well as other publications and reports, combined with information from discussions with colleagues and experts. This ensured the use of best practices and lessons learnt from other geographies such as Australia,⁵ Canada⁶ and the Eastern Caribbean⁷ to adapt the process to the local context.

Article 38 of the Seychelles Constitution,⁸ along with the Seychelles Sustainable Development Strategy,⁹ requires the implementation of “an integrated marine plan to optimise the sustainable use and effective management of the Seychelles marine environment while ensuring and improving the social, cultural and economic wellbeing of its people” and this provides the background for the marine plan. The SMSP Initiative was launched with three objectives: to expand protection of marine waters to 30 per cent, to address climate change adaptation and to support the Blue Economy.¹⁰

A key part of meeting the objectives for the 30 per cent protection goal and supporting the Blue Economy was designing a zoning framework for the full 1.35 million km2. Development of this was informed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) ecological and socio-economic criteria for MPA networks,¹¹ the IUCN guidelines for MPAs on protected area categories,¹² lessons learnt from other countries, tools for biodiversity prioritisation (e.g. Marxan) and consultations with experts. The zoning process was defined in two phases with three Milestones, the first two of which were focused primarily on proposals for deep water and the third on deep and shallow water. This was because most marine activities other than industrial tuna fishing occur in waters less than 200 m deep and it took longer to gather the necessary data and develop those proposals.

Scientific data, local expert knowledge and stakeholder input for maps showing habitats, species and marine uses and activities began in Milestone 1. Information was also obtained from international research expeditions such as National Geographic Pristine Seas in 2015 and the Nekton Expedition in 2019. Two Marxan analyses were undertaken: the first was a project led by GOS United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)Global Environment Facility (GEF) (Klaus, 2015¹³) and led to an initial analysis; and the second was a rapid “Marxan with Zones” project using three scenarios (biodiversity bias, Blue Economy bias, economic bias), which led to suggestions for establishing three different zones across the marine waters: High Protection, Medium Protection and Multiple Use. Customised decision-support tools were developed to check representation goals against 30 per cent area targets.

Over 100 stakeholders are participating and engaged from more than 11 marine sectors, including commercial fishing, tourism and marine charters, biodiversity conservation, renewable energy, port authority, maritime safety and non-renewable resources. To date there have been 210 committee meetings, workshops and public information sessions, an additional 52 workshops for the Outer Islands (GOS-UNDP-GEF Outer Islands Project) and bilateral consultations with marine sectors, local experts and agencies. The results of these activities were used to develop the zoning framework and new MPAs, and further discussions are being held in order to prepare a table of Allowable Activities for the different zone, and to develop other management considerations.

Partnerships and support

The SMSP initiative is a government-led process, and started in 2014. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) leads the process design on behalf of the government, provides all technical and scientific support and undertakes planning, facilitation and project management with support from the GOS-UNDP GEF Programme Coordinating Unit.

The SMSP is a necessary output from the Seychelles debt conversion, which created the Seychelles’ Conservation and Climate Adaptation Trust (SeyCCAT), an independent public-private trust operationalised in 2016. The Trust is responsible for managing debt conversion proceeds including disbursing blue grants and investment assets funded by the debt conversion deal.¹⁴ Under this deal, private philanthropic funding and loan capital were raised, and SeyCCAT then extended loans to GOS to enable the purchase of US$21.6 million of sovereign debt at a discount. GOS now repays SeyCCAT on more favourable terms, allowing SeyCCAT to direct a portion of the repayments for financing of marine conservation and climate change adaptation projects and, in the long term, implementation of the SMSP. Additional funding is being provided through grants to GOS, an Oceans 5 grant awarded to TNC, and some private funders. Approximately US$250,000 is spent on the SMSP per year.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

As per the debt conversion commitment, Milestone 1 (2014-2018) resulted in protection of 15 per cent of the marine waters through gazette of the new Zone 1 and 2 areas in February 2018. Milestone 2 (2018-2019) refined the zoning design and expanded Zones 1 and 2 to include a further 11 per cent of marine waters, which were gazetted in April 2019, bringing the total area protected to 26 per cent. This Milestone included an economic analysis undertaken with a fisheries expert and an economist to evaluate the potential impact of the zones on industrial tuna fishing. Milestone 3 (20192020) involved an estimate by an economist of the costs required to implement the new MPAS, and final gazettements during this Milestone achieved the 30 per cent protection goal in March 2020. The total area protected includes MPAs that were designated before the SMSP process was initiated, such as Aldabra Marine Reserve. The MPAs are thus as follows:

High Biodiversity Protection Areas:

Known collectively as Zone 1 and covering 203,071 km2 (15 per cent of Seychelles waters), these five areas (Aldabra Group, Bird Island (Île aux Vaches), D’Arros Atoll, D’Arros to Poivre Atolls, Amirantes South) are designated as MPAs under the National Parks and Nature Conservancy Act (NPNCA) and are designed to conserve and protect the top priority areas for marine and coastal biodiversity, including those of international significance. MPAs contain habitats and species that may be rare, endangered, unique or with narrow distribution ranges, as well as breeding or spawning areas, key foraging habitat, fragile or sensitive species and habitats. Each site is large enough to ensure ecological resilience and to provide climate change adaptation. In the draft Allowable Activities table, extractive activities and those that alter the seabed are not allowable.

• Medium Biodiversity Protection and Sustainable Use Areas:

Known collectively as Zone 2 and covering 238,442 km2, these eight areas (Amirantes to Fortune Bank, Denis Island, Desroches Atoll, Poivre Atoll, Alphonse Group, Farquhar Atoll, Farquhar Archipelago, Cosmoledo and Astove Archipelago) are designed with the objective of biodiversity protection and sustainable use and are designated as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) under the NPNCA. They include habitats and species that have some tolerance to disturbance and human use and include regionally and nationally significant areas; the draft Allowable Activities include sustainable fishing, tourism and renewable energy. Zone 2 is considered suitable for some level of extraction and sea-bed alteration depending on the specific location, provided there is appropriate consultation and management to achieve the objective of the area.

Zone 3 is Multiple Use and covers the remaining 70 per cent of Seychelles waters. It will be finalised in 2020-2021 at which point the SMSP will be implemented through a phased approach, which is still being developed.

The new MPAs will be implemented through existing or new legislation; regulations will be passed for uses and activities, management plans will be developed and IUCN protected area management categories will be assigned as appropriate. The SMSP website¹⁵ provides information on all the outputs of the initiative including a spatial data catalogue, an Atlas, the MSP Policy, economic assessments and the legal gazettes for the new MPAs.


COVID-19: The greatest current challenge in most countries is recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.

All countries and MPAs around the world have seen 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 impacted the livelihoods of local communities, which may 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 economic recovery.


Challenges

Developing a comprehensive marine spatial plan needs patience and persistence, and can take up to 10 years. It takes time to gather information and to discuss with all involved any implications that MSP may have on livelihoods. Once the plan is agreed, further time is needed to finalise the details and obtain government approval and for implementation. For the SMSP, the Milestones created steps along the way to the 30 per cent goal and allowed time for development of the supporting spatial database and science, documents for discussions with stakeholders and the independent assessments and analyses that informed the iterative process with stakeholders and civil society.

It is also a challenge to ensure that all sectors participate fully and that equity issues in relation to engagement and contribution are appropriately addressed. The fact that the SMSP stakeholder engagement process and governance framework were designed from the start to ensure participation from all sectors was helpful. It is important to have a government champion for an MSP and consistency in the core team to build trust with stakeholder groups.

The future may hold greater challenges, in terms of implementing the SMSP, integrating and coordinating regulatory authorities for many different uses and activities in the zones, and encouraging stakeholders to comply with the new legislation once enacted. Given the immense size of the area covered by the new MPAs, this will require additional resources. Several options are being considered, including an independent authority; discussions are on-going and will be finalised in 20202021. For monitoring and surveillance, a combination of approaches will likely be adopted, involving existing authorities (e.g. Coast Guard) and making use of the rapidly evolving global monitoring and surveillance technology to strengthen the existing system.

Key lessons learnt

• Political support and commitment to the process from the beginning, with leaders, including the president, understanding the purpose and objectives of the initiative, represented a major factor in success. Project staff reported back regularly to Cabinet and sought feedback from decision-makers, developing the political will that was needed to follow the six-year process.

• Establishment of the right partnership at the beginning was essential: as a small island developing state, Seychelles lacked prior MSP experience, technical capacity and knowledge for the MSP process. TNC provided MSP expertise, a process and science lead and a project manager. The project manager is based in Seychelles and able to talk regularly to the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change.

• Trust-building was critical. Given the lead role of the Ministry, there were concerns among some stakeholders that biodiversity protection would dominate discussions. It was continually emphasised that the SMSP was multi-objective, and that it was a government priority to ensure both biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods.

• Spatial data are vital for an MSP. To ensure that sectors were equally well informed and proposals were evidence-based, relevant scientific data and local knowledge were made available from the start. Each sector provided spatial information indicating its priority areas, and also reviewed data from consultations to ground truth them for accuracy. The GIS (geographic information system) methodology must also be able to receive confidential or proprietary data and use it to develop proposals without revealing specific locations.

• Given that sectors often differ in their level of understanding of the issues and have different capacities for participation, project staff made sure that committee meetings and reporting arrangements suited all involved. Technical Working Groups were established for specific sectors and topics (e.g. fisheries, tourism, finance, climate change) allowing space for technical discussions and developing draft products.

• Time is needed for stakeholders to gather the information to present their arguments, and for discussions with them of proposals as these arise. It was accepted that the process would slow down if lack of agreement or misunderstandings arose, and facilitation focused on gathering information to help resolve issues and obtain a high level of support.

• A consistent effort was made to ensure key stakeholders were present during relevant discussions so that many views could be presented and decisions were transparent. Meeting materials were distributed and comments received to ensure all views were incorporated. Public information sessions were held on all the main islands to also reach civil society and stakeholders. Finalised meeting minutes and other documents were made available through the website.

• The issues of new protected areas and future exclusion of industrial tuna fishing, oil and gas exploration, and marine charters for sport fishing were difficult, and impartial facilitation (independent from the Ministry) ensured that all sectors were able to discuss the proposed locations and potential impacts. An economic assessment for industrial tuna fishing was very useful and, during the zoning process, all sectors agreed to forego some areas that they had mapped as “high value”; ultimately, a compromise was reached between economic development and protection of key areas for biodiversity and ecosystem function.

• It is essential to understand that the adage “one size fits all” does not apply to MSP. Nevertheless, in the same way that lessons learnt about MSP from other geographies were used to develop the Seychelles process, lessons from the Seychelles MSP will apply elsewhere.

Project contacts

Those involved in the SMSP would be pleased to share the Seychelles experience and lessons learnt.

Joanna Smith, Seychelles MSP Process and Science Lead: [email protected];
Helena Sims, Project Manager, SMSP Initiative: [email protected]
Alain de Comarmond, Principal Secretary, Seychelles Environment Department: [email protected]

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Endnotes

1. Laurence, D. (2020) “Seychelles Protects 30 Percent of Territorial Waters, Meeting Target 10 Years Ahead of Schedule”. Seychelles News Agency, 26 March.
2. https://oceanconference.un.org/commitments/?id=19023
3. https://seymsp.com/the-initiative/
4. http://msp.ioc-unesco.org/msp-guides/msp-step-by-stepapproach/
5. http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au
6. http://mappocean.org
7. http://msp.ioc-unesco.org/world-applications/americas/stkitts-nevis/
8. “The State recognises the right of every person to live in and enjoy a clean, healthy and ecologically balanced environment and with a view to ensuring the effective realisation of this right the State undertakes to ensure a sustainable socioeconomic development of Seychelles by a judicious use and management of the resources of Seychelles.”
9. http://www.egov.sc/edoc/pubs/frmpubdetail.aspx?pubId=26
10. https://seychellesresearchjournal.com/archives/archive-1-2/
11. IUCN/WCPA (2008) Establishing Marine Protected Area Networks-Making It Happen. Washington, DC: IUCN WCPA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and The Nature Conservancy.
12. Day, J., Dudley, N., Hockings, M., Holmes, G. et al. (2012) Guidelines for Applying the IUCN Protected Area Management Categories to Marine Protected Areas. Gland: IUCN.
13. Klaus, R. (2015), Strengthening Seychelles’ protected area system through NGO management modalities, GOS-UNDPGEF project, Final report.
14. See separate case study prepared for the Commonwealth Blue Charter Blue Economy AG.
15. https://seymsp.com/outputs/

Post-COVID recovery should lock in ocean sustainability, says Commonwealth Secretary-General

The Commonwealth Secretary-General is urging governments to ensure their countries’ post-COVID economic recoveries are environmentally sustainable and safe for the ocean.

Forty-seven of the Commonwealth’s 54 member countries have a coastline while 25 are either small island developing states or ‘big ocean states’ relying heavily on the ocean for food and income.

Sustainable blue and green economies

On World Oceans Day (8 June), Secretary-General Patricia Scotland calls on countries to reform development strategies in a way that supports vibrant and sustainable blue and green economies.

She said: “The ocean is the life blood of so many Commonwealth countries and our environment should be the cornerstone as we put plans in place to recover our economies. The Commonwealth covers more than a third of coastal oceans in the world, contributing to a global ocean-based economy valued at US$3 to 6 trillion per year.

“COVID-19 impact has radically altered some of our key economic sectors and transformed the way we live, communicate and do business. While the fallout from the pandemic has had a huge impact on our blue economies, it also presents a crucial opportunity to strategise on how to accelerate the transition towards more sustainable economic practices built on climate resilience and ocean sustainability.

“The Commonwealth Blue Charter is one of the most effective platforms for global ocean action in the international landscape today. I commend the work of our member countries through the action groups and welcome the support we have received from national, regional and global partners, enabling us to mobilise together for ocean health.”

Blue Charter action groups

The Blue Charter is the Commonwealth’s commitment to work together to protect the ocean and meet global ocean commitments. Ten action groups, led by 13 champion countries, are driving the flagship initiative. More than 40 countries have signed up to one or more of these action groups, and counting.

Commonwealth Blue Charter action groups include:

  • Sustainable Aquaculture (led by Cyprus)
  • Sustainable Blue Economy (Kenya)
  • Coral Reef Protection and Restoration (Australia, Belize, Mauritius)
  • Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods (Sri Lanka)
  • Ocean Acidification (New Zealand)
  • Ocean and Climate Change (Fiji)
  • Ocean Observations (Canada)
  • Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance (marine plastic pollution – United Kingdom, Vanuatu)
  • Marine Protected Areas (Seychelles)
  • Sustainable Coastal Fisheries (Kiribati)

Members of the private sector, academia and civil society – including Vulcan Inc, Bloomberg Philanthropies, the Association of Commonwealth Universities, Nekton Foundation and many others – are also engaged as Blue Charter partners.

Seychelles milestone offers lessons on marine protection

Commonwealth countries committed to saving the ocean will benefit from new knowledge gained from the Seychelles, which has just designated almost a third of its ocean as marine protected areas (MPAs).

The island nation recently set aside 30 per cent of its marine territory, or about 410,000 square kilometres, to be legally protected from activities that damage the marine environment.

Other than sustainable tourism, the new laws will ban almost all human activity in half of the protected areas, while allowing only low-impact sustainable businesses to operate in the other half.

The milestone is a culmination of six years of intense technical and legal work, scientific research, as well as community and political engagement.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “Seychelles has demonstrated remarkable leadership as the ‘champion country’ for marine protected areas under the Commonwealth Blue Charter. It is immensely encouraging to see  how the experiences, insights and lessons learned from Seychelles will  inspire and catalyse other member states who also wish to protect their ocean.

“Marine protection goes beyond conservation, allowing for the development of  ‘blue’ economies based on sustainable ocean activity. A healthy ocean also presents enhanced opportunities for economic recovery post COVID-19, and for building resilience and withstanding the impacts of natural disasters and extreme weather events.”

The new marine spatial plan maps out the entirety of Seychelles Exclusive Economic Zone (spanning 1.37 million square kilometres) and was financed through an innovative ‘debt-for-nature’ swap co-designed by the Government of Seychelles and The Nature Conservancy.

Path to success

Alain de Comarmond, Principal Secretary of Environment at the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change of Seychelles stressed that countries would need to set their own targets and methods according to their own circumstances.

He outlined four basic elements that led to Seychelles’ success: political support, efficient partnerships, a robust framework for implementation, and patience.

He explained: “The starting point in all of this is the political support and commitment. The President and political leaders were clear about the objective for Seychelles, and the Cabinet was updated regularly on all progress of our work.

“Finding the right partnerships is also very important. For small developing states like Seychelles, most of us do not have all the technical capacity or knowhow needed. We were very lucky to have a very strong partner in The Nature Conservancy, which provided technical and financial assistance.”

Mr de Comarmond added that a well-oiled chain of teams and committees across various agencies helped to ensure that the process was inclusive. The government recognised that the business community and civil society needed to be fully engaged and take ownership.

He said: “We took a very patient and persistent approach, investing a lot of time in building trust and getting the agreement from all our stakeholders. Proposals were always backed with scientific data.”

Seychelles’ achievement of 30 per cent coverage is far beyond international targets of 10 per cent by the end of this year. However, a growing number of Commonwealth countries are supporting a more ambitious target of 30 per cent by 2030, to be agreed at the next UN Biodiversity Conference.

Blue Charter Champion

Under the Commonwealth Blue Charter, Seychelles leads an action group of 16 member countries, including: 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.

Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, said: “A key goal of the Blue Charter is to share knowledge and experiences, while working together to scale up strategies, in this case for the effective management, monitoring and enforcement of MPAs.”

Commonwealth Blue Charter – All Champions Meeting

Countries driving the Commonwealth Blue Charter project will meet in Cyprus from 21 to 24 March 2020. They will reflect on what they’ve achieved over the past year, and agree on a strategy for the coming year.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a landmark agreement by leaders to cooperate on ocean action. Since launching in 2018, 10 action groups led by 13 ‘champion’ countries have rallied Commonwealth members around pressing ocean issues like marine pollution, coral reef restoration and climate change.

Champion countries will share experiences, best practices and new ideas.

For more information, please contact Heidi Prislan, Commonwealth Blue Charter Adviser: [email protected] or [email protected]

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: fast-track action on ocean health ‘before it is too late’

The Commonwealth is working to establish a fund to help member countries take practical action on ocean sustainability.

Ministers leading Commonwealth Blue Charter action groups met in Oslo with marine experts, investors and philanthropists to discuss the shape of the proposed fund.  The meeting took place during the Our Ocean Conference, to build partnerships between government, industry, science and civil society to meet the challenges facing the ocean.

The initiative comes at a time when coastal states are struggling to find the financial resources to deliver much-needed projects to sustain ocean health. Less than one per cent of all philanthropic funding goes towards marine conservation and sustainability, even though the ocean covers more than two-thirds of the planet. Large funds established to combat climate change appear to be reluctant to support work for the ocean, despite the close interrelation between the health of the ocean and of the environment more generally.

Resources mobilised from the public and private sectors through the proposed fund will contribute to a healthy ocean, sustainable enterprises and vibrant communities.

“Protecting the ocean for future generations is a shared responsibility and a matter of global urgency,” said Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, while stressing that more needs to be done “before it is too late”.

She continued: “Our Commonwealth Blue Charter recognises that no single country can solve these issues alone. Nor is it a matter simply for governments. We need broad and inclusive partnerships drawing together a range of expertise and resources to scale-up and accelerate our collective responses to ocean-related challenges.”

More than 30 countries have banned or restricted single-use plastics and the 53 countries of the Commonwealth have collectively protected more than 15 per cent of the ocean within their jurisdiction, surpassing the UN target of conserving at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020.

Seychelles’ Minister of Environment, Energy and Climate Change, Wallace Cosgrow, told colleagues at the meeting that in order to rebuild fish populations and protect marine habitats his country plans to extend marine protected areas from 26 to 30 per cent.

He said: “As a champion of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, we want to take this initiative forward with our member countries to inspire real action in saving the diverse sea life for our future.”

Commonwealth Head of Oceans and Natural Resources, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, said: “This meeting is one of several interactions around the proposed fund in the lead-up to the 2020 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.  Once the fund is established, we hope it will harness the strengths of the public and private sectors to drive rapid actions on protecting our threatened ocean.”

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a commitment by all 53 Commonwealth member countries to co-operate on tackling ocean-related challenges and meeting their commitments for sustainable development and protection. Twelve ‘champion’ countries are currently taking the lead in rallying fellow members to take action in nine key areas for ocean sustainability.

Also at the Our Ocean Conference, the Commonwealth signed a memorandum of understanding with Vulcan, which was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. It will allow Commonwealth countries to use the Allen Coral Atlasa satellite-based mapping and monitoring system, to plan and manage their coral reef ecosystems.

Commonwealth countries taking lead on ocean-based climate action

A 14-strong international panel working to accelerate action for ocean protection features seven Commonwealth member countries.

Australia, Canada, Fiji, Namibia, Ghana, Jamaica and Kenya all helped produce a report unveiled at the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Action Summit which found that ocean-based climate action can play a much bigger role in shrinking the world’s carbon footprint than was previously thought.

In fact it could deliver up to a fifth of the annual greenhouse gas emissions cuts needed in 2050 to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C. Reductions of this magnitude are larger than annual emissions from all current coal fired power plants world-wide.

The report, launched in New York, is entitled ‘Ocean as a Solution for Climate Change: 5 Opportunities for Action’ and was produced by an expert international high-level panel made up of 14 heads of state and government.

The study is the first ever comprehensive, quantitative analysis into the role ocean-based solutions can play in the fight against climate change.

The report suggests the following solutions would help curb climate change, contribute to the development of a sustainable ocean economy, protect coastal communities from storms, provide jobs and improve food security:

  • Scaling up ocean-based renewable energy – which could save up to 5.4 gigatonnes of CO2e annually by 2050, equivalent to taking over a billion cars off the road each year.
  • Decarbonising domestic and international shipping and transport – which could cut up to 1.8 gigatonnes of CO2e annually by 2050.
  • Increasing the protection and restoration of “blue carbon” ecosystems – mangroves, seagrasses and salt marshes – could prevent approximately 1 gigatonne of CO2e from entering the atmosphere by 2050.
  • Utilising low-carbon sources of protein from the ocean, such as seafood and seaweeds, to help feed future populations in a healthy and sustainable way

Australia is investing AUD$70 million in the Blue Economy Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), a 10-year $329 million collaboration between 45 Australian and international partners to develop innovative and sustainable offshore industries to increase Australian seafood and marine renewable energy production.

Fiji is committing to making its shipping sector 100 per cent carbon-free by 2050 while Kenya will incorporate blue carbon ecosystems into its nationally determined contribution, in partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF.

Namibia is committing an additional US$5 million towards ocean research and protection over 2019/2020.

The report comes on the back of significant progress on the Commonwealth Blue Charter, Agreed unanimously by leaders in April 2018, the Blue Charter commits all 53 member countries to work together on solving crucial ocean-related challenges.

To date, 12 ‘champion’ countries have stepped forward to rally fellow members around nine key areas, including marine pollution, ocean acidification and the sustainable blue economy.

‘Fiji is leading on the Blue Charter Action Group on ‘oceans and climate change’, Kenya on the ‘sustainable blue economy’, Australia is co-leading on ‘coral reef protection and restoration’ and Canada on ‘ocean observation’.

Commonwealth Head of Ocean and Natural Resources, Nick Hardman-Mountford, said: “This report unequivocally shows that ocean based climate action is integral to reducing the global carbon footprint.

“Commonwealth countries have already come forward with game changing commitments. The Commonwealth Blue Charter that all Commonwealth countries adopted last year provides an action-orientated collaborative mechanism for countries to address ocean issues. We look forward to working with the Commonwealth countries to share experiences, take real action and lead the way forward.”

Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said: “Fiji is leading Pacific Island States in a united and visionary response to the ocean’s untapped potential to combat global warming.

“We are collectively committed to cutting 40 per cent of emissions from Pacific shipping by 2030, and we’re making our shipping sector 100 per cent carbon-free by 2050. Together, we’re moving towards managing our waters sustainably.”

‘This report was swiftly followed by a study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which warned that humanity is in a race against the pace of climate change and our ability to respond to it and calls for urgent, ambitious and collaborative action.