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.
By Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, Head of oceans and natural resources, Commonwealth Secretariat
We have one interconnected ocean that sustains life on this planet. Yet it is under threat from a myriad of human pressures, such as climate change, marine pollution, and overfishing, with no holistic approach to tackle these.
Worldwide, marine conservation and other ocean solutions continue to be severely underfunded, ocean climate change under-researched, while global frameworks for governing the ocean, particularly beyond national jurisdictions, remain weak and inadequate.
Many opportunities have been missed, but 2021 presents a rare opportunity to tackle these ocean challenges, and the Commonwealth Blue Charter offers a unique platform to catalyse multilateral actions to do so.
2021 – A ‘make or break’ year
The coronavirus pandemic has compelled governments to overhaul national, regional and international priorities. It has also taught us that we can adapt to new realities. A growing call for a “green recovery” has put sustainability as a realistic option for post-pandemic rebuilding strategies.
Two major global summits this year – the UN conferences on biodiversity (CBD-COP15) and climate change (UNFCCC-COP26) – present a prime opportunity for ocean states to also rally round a post-Covid “blue recovery”.
Such a step forward would highlight the central role of the ocean in upholding vast natural ecosystems, the climate system and economic systems. The focus would be on the sustainable development of the global ocean economy, which was already generating $2.5 trillion worth of goods and services each year before the pandemic, on top of an estimated asset value of $24 trillion.
In particular, this could help support vulnerable ocean-based economies that have been most severely impacted by Covid-19, such as small island states.
A blue recovery would also maximise innovative financing for ocean protection (‘blue finance’), and explore new ways of creating economic value, such as monetising the carbon storage capacity of coastal and marine ecosystems (‘blue carbon’).
A fresh take on multilateral ocean action
With 47 out of its 54 member countries bordering the ocean, 25 being small island developing states – or ‘large ocean states’ – the Commonwealth is well-placed as a global leader on ocean action to champion a thriving blue economy in a post-Covid world.
The historic Commonwealth Blue Charter, adopted in 2018, captures the shared commitment of 54 countries to working together to actively solve ocean-related challenges.
To date, 15 countries have stepped forward to lead 10 action groups, working on a range of ocean issues. Focus areas and champion countries include: sustainable blue economy (co-led by Kenya, Antigua & Barbuda); sustainable aquaculture (led by Cyprus); 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); marine plastic pollution (known as the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance, co-led by the United Kingdom, Vanuatu); marine protected areas (Seychelles) and sustainable coastal fisheries (Kiribati, Maldives).
Forty-six countries (and counting) have signed up to one or more of these action groups, supported by the Commonwealth Secretariat, along with a range of partners from the private sector, academia, civil society and the philanthropic sector.
In a world of complex multilateral structures and well-intended declarations, the Commonwealth Blue Charter seeks to support existing global ocean commitments by bringing a fresh approach focused on active and innovative collaboration.
As membership of the action groups is voluntary, countries that do sign up are already motivated to deliver real progress on a particular issue. These action groups have met over the past year and developed joint action plans and priorities. Different action groups also feed into each other, given the strongly interrelated nature of their work areas.
Today, hundreds of focal points and partners from across the Commonwealth use the Commonwealth Blue Charter’s online network to share strategies, exchange information and highlight best practices.
More than 60 detailed case studies of good and best practices have been developed and are being shared on the network, in addition to 10 training programmes and webinars delivered by the Secretariat, benefitting thousands of professionals in the ocean industries.
Very soon, countries will also be able to leverage a new database that aims to support them in accessing US$ 170 million of available funding for ocean projects.
Moving forward, the Commonwealth Blue Charter will continue to be a testament to what can be achieved when countries work together, sharing passion and commitment, to save the ocean and the livelihoods that depend on it. A thriving blue economy is indeed within reach.
In its eighth year, The Economist’sWorld Ocean Summit 2021 is going virtual for the first time and for this year only, the event is free-to-attend.
The virtual week offers the opportunity to access hours of highly curated content over five days, and the chance to make meaningful connections no matter where you are in the world.
The Commonwealth Secretariat will be participating at the conference, highlighting its role in promoting international cooperation around ocean governance and ocean health, particularly through the Commonwealth Blue Charter.
The summit’s focus will be on high-level conversation and policymaking in plenary sessions as well as industry focus in six dedicated tracks: aquaculture, fishing, energy, plastics, shipping, and tourism.
In addition, participants will be able to engage across sectors to explore the role the ocean plays in tackling climate change, enhancing biodiversity, protecting coastal communities, and restoring ecosystems.
The Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland, will be speaking on a high-level panel on the topic of ‘Governance: Ocean governance and national ocean strategies’, on 1 March 2021, 12:10 pm -1:00 pm GMT.
Head of Oceans and Natural Resources, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, will be speaking during a session ‘Innovation: Advances in science and technology to preserve ocean health and mitigate climate change’, on 1 March 2021, 2:40 pm – 3:20 pm GMT.
Register free to join over 5,000 participants and 150 global leaders across the week, in our mission to accelerate a sustainable ocean economy.
You can view the high profile speaker line-up and agenda here.
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.
“As the business grows, each iteration becomes less risky. There’s more work to do, but it’s easier. The chance of failure is much less as you move forward and you start building a team.”
– Gerry McCollum, CEO of Chicoa Fish Farm
A highly experienced management team launched a new project in Cahora Bassa Lake, Mozambique, in 2012 to establish a large-scale, cage-based tilapia farm. The promoters had been involved in setting up the Lake Harvest Fish Farm in Lake Kariba, Zimbabwe, in previous decades, a project that has been the inspiration behind many similar projects in the region.
Chicoa Fish Farm has taken many years to get off the ground as, despite their extensive experience, the promoters found it difficult to find finance for the project and acquire the various permissions. They were eventually supported by the Dutch venture capital organisation Aqua-Spark, and are now in production with 36 cages, a hatchery and associated buildings. They intend to add a feed mill and processing plant, building a vertically integrated fish farm that can also supply inputs, training and possibly finance for other fish farmers in the region.
The project demonstrates the important role that experience plays in setting up a new venture but also the challenges involved in setting the first fish farm of its type in a relatively remote area. Despite these challenges, the project is making good progress thanks to the persistence and vision of the promoters.
Africa imports around 40 per cent of the fish it consumes and, with increasing pressure on fish stocks, capture fisheries cannot meet the demand. According to the 2018 United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) State of the World Fisheries and Aquaculture Report, per capita fish consumption in Africa is expected to decrease by 0.2 per cent per year up to 2030, declining from 9.8 kg in 2016 to 9.6 kg in 2030, as a result of population growth outpacing supply. The decline will be even more significant in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to a Mozambique fisheries fact file released by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), more than half of the country’s population of 27 million people are surviving beneath the poverty line, and per capita fish consumption is at 9 kg per person. Meanwhile, the aquaculture sector is badly underdeveloped, mainly producing prawns, along with some tilapia and seaweed.
Chicoa Fish Farm was established by experienced aquaculture developers Gerry McCollum and Damien Legros to create a blueprint of a vertically integrated fish farm that other farmers can emulate in the region to supply much-needed fish and improve the prospects for people in an under-developed region of Southern Africa.
Gerry McCollum and Damien Legros worked together to establish the Lake Harvest Fish Farm in Kariba, Zimbabwe, in the late 1990s. Lake Harvest was the first large-scale cage-based fish farm in Southern Africa. The initial aim was to produce 3,000 tons per year of tilapia for export to Europe in a project supported by the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC). However, as the economic situation in Zimbabwe deteriorated and priorities changed within CDC, the farm was sold to its management team of McCollum, Legros and Patrick Blow, who managed to keep it operating by focusing on European markets. Major new investment came in 2009 through a UK-based venture capital fund, African Century, and the business concentrated on developing regional markets within Africa. Lake Harvest has expanded since then and has been the inspiration behind rapid expansion of cage-based tilapia aquaculture and supporting industries such as aquaculture feed production across sub-Saharan Africa.
Meanwhile, McCollum and Legros moved on from Lake Harvest and in 2012 decided to focus on commercial aquaculture in Mozambique. Chicoa Fish Farm is situated on Cahora Bassa Lake, downstream from Kariba on the Zambezi River. It has good access to Tete’s urban centre and other markets across the region, including Blantyre, Lilongwe, Harare, Maputo and Beira.
The site is in deep water, close to land, which makes it easier and more cost-effective to supervise the cages in a protected bay. It farms Nile tilapia, a fish introduced to the Zambezi catchment in the 1980s that grows rapidly, is easy to breed and can be fed using largely plant-based diets.
The company plans to expand production to around 5,000 tons per year and will build a larger hatchery and feed plant than it needs for its own production with the aim of selling inputs to other farmers in the region. The aim is to supply new farmers with everything they need, from fingerlings, to feed, training and equipment and possibly even financial solutions.
A small settlement called Emboque lies next to the farm. The area is remote and the people are poor. Many do not have schooling and eke out their living as subsistence farmers or fishers. For these people and others across the region, an aquaculture model like Chicoa’s might well offer the chance for a more secure and prosperous life.
Partnerships and support
Chicoa found it difficult to raise finance but was eventually supported by Aqua-Spark, a Netherlandsbased investment fund that focuses exclusively on sustainable aquaculture. However, there was initial hesitation owing to the fund’s internal policy to invest in on-going concerns rather than start-ups. Chicoa used this investment to install the first cages in November 2015.
Results, accomplishments and outcomes
Chicoa now has 36 production cages, with a production capacity of 1,200–1,400 tons, in Cahora Bassa Lake, as well as a breeding set-up on the lake, nursery tanks on
land, offices, a feed store and workshops.
The company is now raising funds to increase its capacity to 3,000 MT per year and intend to build a processing facility. It has a new CFO, Jayson Coomer, and a joint venture partner in Malawi handling sales.
It sells whole tilapia on ice in Mozambique but also exports to Zambia, Malawi and countries in Southern Africa.
The company has over 100 employees on the payroll and will also be training and assisting other entrepreneurs to become out-growers or third-party farmers. Chicoa is training and employing people from the local community and offers internships for Mozambican agricultural students from technical colleges.
Chicoa’s first few years were particularly difficult as it was a virgin site and the initial investment time was high. It took two years to secure the land and licences for the farm.
Chicoa also had to deal with poor infrastructure, lowskilled labour, bureaucracy and a lack of supporting industry or institutional framework.
Key lessons learnt
In a relatively remote location, where there are no other similar businesses, vertical integration of a fish farm is essential. It is not possible to depend on others for fingerlings or markets and Chicoa intends to build its own feed mill and processing plant.
The expertise of the Chicoa team has been an important factor in project success.
Chicoa can become a catalyst for growth of the aquaculture industry through supplying high-quality fingerlings, feed and expertise, thus diversifying revenue streams and enabling a positive impact on local communities.
Close to 4,000 robotic devices deployed in oceans around the world will soon be upgraded to collect a wider range of vital data on ocean health – this will help researchers better understand the impacts of the climate crisis on ocean life and blue economies.
The ocean-monitoring programme, Argo, was highlighted at a webinar co-organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Government of Canada, which champions the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Ocean Observations.
The event focused on the need for robust ocean observations and scientific data to achieve sustainability goals, providing the basis for accurate weather forecasts, climate change monitoring and sound environmental policies.
Opening the session, Ocean Science National Manager at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Andrew Stewart, said: “Ocean observations are essential to improving our ability to predict and adapt to the increasing pressures facing our oceans, including those that arise from anthropogenic activities.”
He said the webinar helped to advance the work of the Commonwealth’s action group on ocean observation, including sharing data and knowledge, promoting innovation and making ocean science more inclusive.
In his presentation, ocean scientist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Blair Greenan, who leads Canada’s contribution to the Argo programme, outlined the science behind Argo.
Using a fleet of robotic devices that drift with the ocean currents, Argo collects information on temperature and salinity of the upper 2000m of the global ocean. The data is sent through satellites and made publicly available within 24 hours. The free and open-access data has helped to improve weather and ocean forecast systems around the world.
“This has transformed our capability to monitor ocean climate change,” said Dr Greenan.
Building on its 20-year record of conducting ocean observations, supported by more than 30 countries, Argo is now embarking on a new initiative, Biogeochemical (BGC) Argo, to collect additional data on ocean chemistry and biology. This will enable scientists to improve computer models on fisheries and climate, and to monitor and forecast the effects of ocean warming.
Canada’s BGC Argo lead, Dalhousie University professor Katja Fennel said: “Global warming is, first and foremost, ocean warming. Ocean heat has increased at a staggering rate, equivalent to five Hiroshima-class nuclear explosions every second for the past 25 years.”
Together with the uptake of human CO2 emissions by the ocean, this has led to ocean acidification, declining oxygen levels and diminishing plankton, which negatively impact marine ecosystems.
She stressed that sustained measurement programmes of ocean biology, chemistry and physics together are essential to understand these impacts and take action to address them.
Cooperation with small states
Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, added that the Commonwealth Blue Charter action groups serve as valuable platforms to encourage science-backed decision-making by governments and institutions.
The Commonwealth Blue Charter – an agreement amongst all 54 member countries to work actively together to solve ocean challenges – is implemented through 10 action groups, led by 15 champion countries, focusing on a range of ocean priorities.
Dr Hardman-Mountford said: “Importantly, the Commonwealth includes the majority of small island – but large ocean – developing states in the world, which are some of the most risk of ocean climate change.
“Through the Action Group on Ocean Observations, we’d really like to see more of these countries equipped to participate in ocean observing. This way they gain the knowledge and scientific capacity to collect and analyse the data needed to manage their marine estate, develop sustainable blue economies and build climate resilience.”
He added that the Argo programme requires partners to deploy floats in deep ocean sites around the world, providing a “great opportunity” for cooperation with island countries, supported by the Commonwealth Blue Charter.
The webinar is the sixth in a series seeking to showcase innovative solutions and best practices being implemented by the Blue Charter Action Groups and their partners.
Ocean professionals are keen to apply new tools and lessons learned from specialised courses run by the Commonwealth Secretariat.
Better managing ocean spaces
The online training programme, currently being rolled out, aims to help countries better manage their ocean spaces. Topics range from how to map mangroves using advanced technology; to linking science and policymaking; to engaging stakeholders and raising funds to deliver successful projects.
To date, more than 500 local professionals from across the Commonwealth have signed up for the various courses, which were freely available on a first-come-first-serve basis.
Benefits from the course
Taati Eria, a senior fisheries officer at the Ministry of Fisheries in Kiribati, said she benefitted from the course on stakeholder engagement: “We are grateful for the resources shared which are quite useful to our work. Even though we encountered few difficulties with the internet connection, we are thankful to our trainers. We did learn new tools that are quite new to us and are useful in engaging our stakeholders.”
Rhea Kanhai, an environmental officer at Guyana’s Environmental Protection Agency took the course on mapping mangroves. She added: “The course was well worth it and I’ll definitely implement what I learnt in my work.”
Solutions for ocean challenges
The initiative marks an important milestone under the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a historic agreement by the 54 countries of the Commonwealth to work actively together to find solutions for ocean challenges and meet global commitments on ocean health.
Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Nicholas Hardman-Mountford said the places for online courses were filled within days:
“The feedback so far has been extremely positive. These training opportunities are such an important step in translating high-level global commitments on ocean governance and protection – including those related to the Sustainable Development Goals – to practical action that actually makes a difference to the lives of people on the ground.
“Ultimately our aim is to build lasting capacity within countries to better manage ocean resources by upskilling local people who carry out the work in the sector. We are fortunate to have world class partners with whom the Secretariat is collaborating to make this programme possible.”
Commonwealth Blue Charter
Some of the courses were based on pressing needs identified by Commonwealth Blue Charter ‘action groups’ – voluntary clusters of member countries that have joined up to collaborate on specific ocean challenges. To date, there are 10 action groups, led by 13 champion countries covering issues such as marine plastic pollution, climate change, and mangrove restoration.
The course offered on mangroves was an initiative from the Mangrove Ecosystems and Livelihoods Action Group to support the development of management plans and pilot programmes across the Commonwealth.
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)
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.