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.