Marine specialists welcome ‘rigorous’ training on ocean management

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.”

Webinar participants

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.

For more details on courses and to register an interest for 2021 sessions

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.

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.

Ministers commit to join forces in climate change fight

Environment ministers from across the Commonwealth have jointly committed to work together to tackle the devastating impacts of climate change, build resilience and collaborate on ocean action.

During a roundtable side event at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, ministers with responsibility for the environment, oceans and climate change representing 26 countries across the Commonwealth agreed to a statement which commits them to work together “to tackle and reduce the devastating impacts of climate change on our countries’ peoples, economies, land and ocean environments”.

The written statement went on to add: “We will share our experiences and ideas to formulate multilateral actions across the Commonwealth”.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland opened the meeting entitled ‘Advancing ambition and accelerating action – Dialogue on climate change, resilience building and ocean action’.

She told ministers: “No country in our Commonwealth family is unaffected by the impacts of climate change.

“Now is the moment for us to bring our collective voice to bear on these defining issues of our time.”

The event was designed to boost the Commonwealth’s efforts towards reducing emissions, accelerating the rate of resilience-building and adaptation and using natural and marine resources in a sustainable manner (otherwise referred to as green and blue growth).

Ministers also:

  • Reaffirmed the need to pursue efforts to limit the increase in global temperatures to 1.5°C, as documented in the 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report
  • Highlighted the commitments of Commonwealth countries to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement through revised nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2020
  • Acknowledged the IPCC’s Special Report on the Ocean and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate and emphasised the role of the ocean in addressing climate change
  • Discussed the success of the Commonwealth Secretariat’s programmes on climate finance, cooperation on ocean action (Blue Charter), resilience building (including disaster risk finance portal, debt management, sustainable economic development) and sustainable energy transition and regenerative development.

The Secretary-General drew attention to the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, a service designed to help member countries untangle red tape around climate financing and make successful applications to international funds designed to tackle climate change effects.

She said: “The financing gaps for climate action, both for mitigation and adaptation measures remains significant. This hub is a hugely valuable addition to the pool of Commonwealth resources and practical assistance.”

Barbados Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, who delivered the keynote address added: “One of the problems of being a small state is lack of capacity – that’s why the Commonwealth and its many toolkits and the Climate Finance Access Hub are so important. But now the question is, how do we scale it up?”

In fact the hub has helped member countries access a total of USD 27million of funding – more than 35 times the original start-up investment of AUD 1 million from Australia.

Furthermore, nearly half a billion USD has been applied for and is in the pipeline for climate action projects across the Commonwealth.

Ministers also discussed the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a commitment to promote good ocean governance and protect the ocean, back by action groups to tackle threats such as pollution, over-fishing and the effects of climate change through shared, innovative approaches. They highlighted the inextricable link between climate change and ocean action.

To date, 12 countries have stepped forward to be Commonwealth Blue Charter Champions on nine topics identified as priorities. Topics include coral reef protection and restoration, ocean acidification, marine plastic pollution and marine protected areas.

Ministers agreed to meet again at the 2019 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP25) in Santiago, Chile, in December, which is being badged as the ‘blue COP’. They will develop proposals for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2020 in order to strengthen financing mechanisms and help Commonwealth countries fulfil their climate mitigation, adaptation and ocean action commitments.

Secretary-General urges action on oceans at Malta meeting

The Commonwealth Secretary-General has emphasised the “immense urgency” of taking action to protect the world’s oceans.

Patricia Scotland joined representatives from the Commonwealth, United Nations, governments and other international organisations at the first meeting of Oceans Ambassadors, hosted by the Government of Malta.

Highlighting the “very pressing” issues of ocean health and sustainability, the Secretary-General said that more than one third of the world’s coastal ocean lies within Commonwealth jurisdictions, as do 42 per cent of coral reefs and the majority of the world’s small island developing states and territories.

“Forty-six of our 53 countries have a coastline – and three of the remaining landlocked states border great lakes,” she said.  “So it is entirely fitting that prominent and important roles at this meeting as leading champions of the Ocean should be played by Commonwealth citizens”.

The job of Ocean Ambassadors is to focus efforts on caring for oceans, ecosystems and environments – from shoreline to deep sea – and raising awareness of their importance and continued well-being. Ocean Ambassadors include experts, enthusiasts, scientists and conservationists.

The meeting is an initiative of the Maltese government and Peter Thomson, the UN Secretary General’s first Special Envoy for the Ocean, whose role is to drive the implementation of SDG14, the UN Sustainable Development Agenda’s goal to conserve and sustainably use the resources of the ocean.

Malta’s Foreign Minister, Carmel Abela, said that as a maritime archipelago, Malta viewed the sustainability of the world’s ocean as a top priority. He said his country was taking a proactive initiative in safeguarding the health and sustainability of its seas.

He added that as oceans are regulators of climate change, the decision to take a proactive global lead to raise awareness on a future joint action plan sends a strong message that healthy oceans and the preservation of marine areas is viewed as a priority internationally.

The Commonwealth would like to capitalise on upcoming high-level ocean events – including the 2020 UN Ocean Conference and the Our Ocean Conference, to be held in Oslo, as well as initiatives such as the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) Intergovernmental Conference, the UN Decade for Ocean Science, the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy – and how these can better engage with the Commonwealth Blue Charter and its Action Groups.

In a presentation to the Ocean Ambassadors, Jeff Ardron, who leads the Commonwealth Blue Charter, explained that the its Action Groups are unique. Rather than setting top-down commitments, the member countries cooperatively set their own goals and targets to fit their circumstances.

ACU Blue Charter fellowships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full list of Blue Charter fellows:

Dr Steven Barrow (Australia)

Dr Timothy Biswisk (Malawi)

Miss Takunda Chitaka (South Africa)

Ms Freya Croft (Australia)

Dr Taiwo Hammed (Nigeria)

Dr Oluwarotimi Olofinnade (Nigeria)

Dr Shantanu Saha (Bangladesh)

Prof. Salom Gnana Thanga Vincent (India)

Dr Ubida Ubida (Nigeria)

Miss Robyn Wright (United Kingdom)