Commonwealth supports Caribbean blue economy ambitions

A recent scoping mission to Antigua and Barbuda will advance plans to establish a Centre of Excellence for Oceanography and the Blue Economy (COBE) for the Caribbean region.

Dr Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, joined the Secretary-General of the Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU) Dr Joanna Newman and others on a five-day visit to the country last month, as part of the COBE International Steering Committee (ISC).

The group met with key national and regional stakeholders to discuss potential partnerships and fundraising opportunities for the centre, which will be housed at the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Five Islands Campus.

The initiative, a collaboration between the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, the University of the West Indies and the Association of Commonwealth Universities, is expected to boost marine science and blue economy research across the Caribbean.

Prime Minister Gaston Browne welcomed the visit, underlining his “firm and unwavering support” for the establishment of the centre.

“Given the fact that the nation of Antigua and Barbuda is such a vast ocean state and the growing interest in blue economy related subject areas, the establishment of the COBE is indeed very timely and advantageous,” he said.

The steering committee presented a report on the progress to set up the centre to Cabinet ministers. The delegation also toured the UWI Five Islands campus to view the infrastructure and spaces which will host the facility, and visited the country’s new port development, accompanied by Darwin Telemaque, Port Authority CEO.

Dr Hardman-Mountford said his involvement continued a track record of strong support by the Commonwealth Secretariat for ocean-based economies:

“Antigua and Barbuda is a leading nation in the region in defining its maritime boundaries and establishing strong ocean governance. The transition to a sustainable blue economy is the next step on this journey.

“As co-champion of the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on the Sustainable Blue Economy, Antigua and Barbuda will be able to share valuable knowledge and experiences with fellow Commonwealth countries. Establishing the COBE in Antigua will provide a real boost in achieving this vision.”

Dr Joanna Newman, Secretary-General of the ACU, said: “We look forward to harnessing the potential of the ACU’s international network of 500 universities across the Commonwealth and developing the partnerships and collaborations which underpin research-led solutions to support a more sustainable future for the Caribbean region.”

As the oldest university network in the world, with many members from island states on the frontline of climate change, the ACU is uniquely placed to convene university partners from across the Commonwealth in support of this ambition.

A mapping exercise by the ACU to scope interest in this project in 2020 elicited responses from 70 individuals at member universities, with representation from every global region.

The Pro Vice Chancellor for Global Affairs at The University of the West Indies, Dr Stacy Richards-Kennedy, added: “The UWI is fully committed to building robust partnerships that will not only strengthen the foundation for the COBE, but also facilitate the execution of the roadmap to its full establishment. By working in concert, the ISC brings tremendous value and will support the achievement of the objectives of the Centre.”

Following the scoping mission, the ACU will be contacting interested universities to identify opportunities to get involved in the work of COBE.

International Women’s Day: How to advance your career in ocean conservation

Guest blog by Paulina Gerstner, Program Director of the Allen Coral Atlas

This blog is based on the author’s presentation at the webinar titled ‘Breaking the Blue Bias’, organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat on 7 March 2022 to mark International Women’s Day. Paulina Gerstner is the programme director for the Allen Coral Atlas at the Arizona State University, a partner of the Commonwealth Secretariat. She shares some valuable insights based on her experience as a professional in the male-dominated ocean science sector.

Reflecting on my career as a woman in the ocean conservation realm, I’ve developed a few key learnings that I believe have enabled me to advance. This International Women’s Day, I’d like to share these experiences, which may help to inspire other women to pursue their goals and ambitions.

Speakers at the 'Breaking the Blue Bias' event

Paulina Gerstner, Programme Director for the Allen Coral Atlas, speaking at the ‘Breaking the Blue Bias’ event

Learn new skills

 Learning new skills is essential. Without continually growing my skills and adding new tools to my toolbox, I would have stagnated. As someone not interested in being a technical or scientific subject matter expert, but excited about distinguishing myself as a program management professional with people-convening powers, this means growing in my tactical, interpersonal, and strategic skills.

Several years ago, I identified that my organisation had a need for more direction and facilitation when it convened experts. I sought out and advocated for a consultant to do a results-based facilitation training at my organisation. I learned so much from that experience that I paid it forward by sharing key lessons and tactics with my peers, implementing a results-based facilitation initiative in the organisation.

Build a network of allies

Bidirectional knowledge-sharing between colleagues, especially supportive peers, can also build rapport, and eventually a set of core allies, which is another critical takeaway. Building a network of allies sets up not only a support system for feedback and mentorship, but will also help you build a coalition of support when you need others’ voices.

Sometimes it can be hard for women to advocate for themselves, since bragging about our accomplishments doesn’t always come naturally. But if you create a network of allies who see your value from many different parts of your organisation, they can be your external bragging party, laying the groundwork for your being seen as an exceptional team member, even when you aren’t in the room. 

Choose when to go above-and-beyond – and when not to

When I was new to the field and early in my career, I often felt I was seen as junior and less capable than I truly was, so I was constantly seeking ways to prove myself as valuable. In the process, I found myself going above and beyond in all areas of my work, and not always areas that benefitted me. This leads me to my third takeaway – choose when to go above-and-beyond, and when not to. Save your effort and energy for going the extra mile when it will show that you are capable of taking on more challenging work.

An example of this was an early workshop that my organisation held with the core partners of the Allen Coral Atlas. We flew in our partners from around the world for an in-person three-day workshop. The stakes were high, given the amount of time and money going into the event.

So, I spent weeks crafting the agenda ahead of the workshop, identifying the most important subject areas we needed to discuss, and areas that would be better discussed in person. I pulled in a dozen stakeholders from across the organisation to identify what they felt we needed to discuss, who needed to be included in what, the outcomes we hoped to reach by the end of the three days, etc.

My hard work paid off – not only did I get widespread recognition for the workshop’s success, but my efforts laid the foundation for a strong partnership that we rely on today.

Learn to say ‘YES’

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I have learned to say yes to opportunities even if they are scary. Like many people, public speaking is not a favorite activity of mine. But when offered chances to speak on behalf of my programme or organisation, I always say yes, and then I prepare as much as I need to, to feel confident. This has given me opportunities like speaking to several hundred people at organisation-wide presentations, going to Abu Dhabi to represent my organisation at the World Ocean Summit, and speaking at the American Geophysical Union. Say yes, even if it terrifies you.

Every International Women’s Day, I am reminded that in order for gender parity to come to fruition in this industry, women need to support women, but men also need to support women. To grow your support system, fill your bench of allies with supportive women and men who see your value and help uplift the women around you. Grow and share your skills, don’t pass up any opportunities, and be strategic about where you put your energy.

Blog: Why we need to tackle the ocean funding crisis

Blog by Commonwealth Secretary-General, the Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC

A few weeks ago, a team of marine scientists made a stunning discovery off the coast of Tahiti in the South Pacific, which they would later describe as “magical”. Diving 30 to 65 metres below the ocean surface, they encountered a magnificent pristine coral reef, stretching 3 kilometres in length and up to 65 metres wide, exploding with giant rose-shaped corals. Not only did this make it one of the largest healthy coral reefs on record, the depth at which it was found is also exceedingly rare—most known coral reefs sit around 25 metres below the surface or less.

A lack of finances flowing to the ocean

Given that a quarter of all sea creatures live in and around coral reefs, the discovery has been hailed as a boon for marine biodiversity research. It also made me realise just how little we know about the ocean and how important it is to invest in its protection.

Herein lies the challenge. Ocean conservation, research and sustainable development are alarmingly underfunded worldwide. Despite covering more than 70% of the planet, the ocean remains “out of sight, out of mind” for many, especially since 60% of it is beyond national jurisdictions. It can also be hard to imagine that something so primordially vast could actually be under strain and in need of safeguarding.

The lack of investment in the ocean is self-evident and truly concerning. Of all the Sustainable Development Goals, SDG 14 on the ocean is by far the least funded, representing a minuscule 0.01% of all SDG funding from development finance up to 2019, and only 0.56% of all philanthropic funding since 2016. Even the crucial link between ocean and climate is massively undervalued, judging by the allocation of international climate finance. Our calculations indicate that less than 2% of support from the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and only 0.7% of Global Environmental Facility (GEF) funding for climate change go towards projects that include ocean action. Yet the gap between ocean conservation requirements and funding available—around US$149bn—is equivalent to just 3% of the estimated US$5trn spent globally on fossil-fuel subsidies every year.

Clearly there is a mismatch here. According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), ocean economies are worth US$3trn-6trn per year and support 350m jobs worldwide. Beyond that, the value that marine ecosystems services provide humanity through clean water generation, temperature regulation, carbon storage, food, energy and other marine resources is approximately US$30bn annually. What we invest in the ocean—to conserve natural ecosystems, fight marine pollution, tackle ocean climate change or develop a sustainable blue economy—should reflect the immense wealth we garner from it.

A rising tide of ocean investment

Nonetheless, there are some developments that should give us hope. The GCF has recently invested in the Global Fund for Coral Reefs, and philanthropic funding for marine conservation has doubled over the past decade, from US$520m in 2010 to US$1.2bn in 2020. The number of marine funders tripled from 486 to around 1,600 over the same period. To help keep track, the Commonwealth Secretariat developed an online database to direct member countries towards more than US$170m of international funding available for ocean-related projects.

To unlock access to critical ocean-related climate finance, we have also deployed ocean-climate finance experts to help governments incorporate these elements into their proposals to climate funds. This is through a collaboration of two flagship initiatives: the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement by 54 countries to cooperate on ocean action, and the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, a programme that deploys specialist long-term advisers to support countries in accessing climate funding. Countries have also raised the need for a Blue Charter Action Fund to incubate and accelerate home-grown ocean solutions, to be considered at the upcoming meeting of Commonwealth Heads of Government in Kigali, Rwanda, this June.

Solutions lie at all levels, across all sectors

To truly tackle the ocean funding crisis, we need action at all levels and across all sectors. Governments can help de-risk ocean investments and integrate the blue economy in national budgets and policy. They could re-align subsidies with societal values and shift from unsustainable subsidies towards rebuilding natural ocean assets. Development partners can use fairer rules around international development finance and integrate sustainability requirements into financial services and investments. The private sector can cooperate with academia to share ocean data, and work with governments to engineer green infrastructure. New multilateral financial tools, including blue bonds, debt conversion, blended finance and incentivised public-private partnerships can be structured alongside conventional development.

The solutions are with us—we need only harness the collective will to carry them out. Our shared ocean, our shared values, our shared future are worth it.

This blog was first published on the World Ocean Initiative website.

Event: Breaking the Blue Bias – Celebrating and sharing the experiences of ocean experts

Date: 7 March 2022, 13:00 – 14:00 GMT

The Commonwealth Secretariat is organising a webinar to celebrate and share the achievements of women ocean experts and champions across the Commonwealth region.

Two-thirds of the world’s small island developing states are part of the Commonwealth network. Ocean sustainable development forms part of the lifeline to these nation’s economies, livelihoods and social wellbeing. The health of our oceans and related industries is under increasing threat from climate change. According to the United Nations, for every five people displaced by climate change globally, four are women.

Considering the majority of Commonwealth nation’s critical dependence on ocean economies, women and young girls play a significant part in turning the tide on climate and ocean challenges.

The Commonwealth is committed to advancing gender equality and women’s rights and empowerment. This International Women’s Day, the Secretariat is organising a webinar to celebrate and share the achievements of female ocean experts and champions across the Commonwealth region who are involved in the delivery of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

The perspectives and leadership approaches of females enhance the environment for ocean conservation. This webinar will provide an opportunity for interested audiences to exchange experiences, lessons learned and insights to boost female empowerment and raise the profile of female contribution in ocean industries.

Confirmed speakers

  • The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth
  • Kacie Conrad, Science Program and Policy Advisor, Fisheries and Oceans Canada
  • Paulina Gerstner, Program Director – Allen Coral Atlas, Arizona State University
  • Josheena Naggea, Doctoral candidate, Stanford University
  • Danielle Nembhard, PhD student, James Cook University
  • Dainalyn Swaby (moderator), Ocean Youth Outreach Assistant, Commonwealth Secretariat


New training database to boost ocean learning

Ahead of International Day of Education, the Commonwealth Secretariat is launching a public database full of useful training courses related to ocean action.

Variety of courses

Targeted at officials who work in the ocean sector, courses range from understanding blue carbon markets, to aiding coral reef resilience, to mainstreaming gender in ocean science.

With more than 200 options to choose from, mostly free and self-paced, the courses will help professionals in member countries to access crucial knowledge products, update their skills and keep up with the latest trends.

Supporting the work of the Action Groups

Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr Nicholas Hardman-Mountford said:

“We are very excited to make this platform available to our members. The online database is designed specifically to support the work of the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups.

“Through the database, countries will be able to access valuable training that will build skills and capacity in areas such as ocean policy and law, sustainable blue economies, environmental monitoring and ocean innovation.”

Commonwealth Blue Charter

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is an agreement by all 54 countries to work together to address shared ocean challenges through country-led Action Groups focused on 10 key ocean issues: marine plastic pollution, coral reef protection, mangrove restoration, climate change, ocean acidification, ocean observation, marine protected areas, sustainable aquaculture, sustainable coastal fisheries and the sustainable blue economy.

Courses in the database can be related to any of these topics.

Since the pandemic, the Secretariat has ramped up efforts to support members virtually, through knowledge exchange webinars, virtual dialogues and training.

Access the ocean training database Commonwealth Ocean Database

Ocean states master basics of compliance in coastal fisheries

Nearly 70 government officials from 16 Commonwealth countries are now equipped with the basic know-how to manage effective compliance in coastal fisheries – a crucial step in protecting the ocean and advancing the blue economy – with support from OceanMind and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

OceanMind, a leading agency in the sector, and the Commonwealth Blue Charter programme, joined forces to deliver an introductory training course about the legal, policy and management elements that ensure coastal fisheries regulations are followed.

The topic is particularly relevant for 47 out of 54 member countries of the Commonwealth which border the ocean. Complying with fisheries regulations helps these ocean-reliant economies protect against overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction, while mitigating the impacts of climate change.


The online course was delivered twice over a four-day period (22-25 November) and included 67 marine professionals from all five regions of the Commonwealth, in multiple time zones. Most participants were based in small states in the Pacific, Caribbean and Africa.

Nick Wise, OceanMind CEO, said: “We are very pleased to have been able to support the international community with this introductory course. The training established a baseline knowledge across various professionals working in the monitoring, control and surveillance sector as well as fisheries managers.

“The feedback we received from participants of the course was invaluable and the knowledge sharing exercises showed that countries throughout the world are dealing with many of the same challenges in their coastal waters. Through collaboration and further engagement, I hope we can continue to support coastal states to meet the challenges of coastal fisheries management, compliance and enforcement.”

Dr Jeff Ardron, programme lead for the Commonwealth Blue Charter, added: “Coastal fisheries feed coastal communities. Establishing better ways to ensure their productivity and good governance will safeguard present and future generations across the Commonwealth. My sincere appreciation to the team at Ocean Mind for sharing its wealth of experience with our Commonwealth Blue Charter members. Next, we will begin to scope out and establish in-country pilot projects.”

Participants during the virtual training
Participants during the virtual training

Training opportunities

Course participants welcomed the course as “helpful”, “compelling” and “straight to the point”.

One participant from Malta stated: “I found all parts of the course beneficial, especially as it provided a needed refresher on parts… also to hear from other member states on how they tackle fisheries’ issues.”

Another from the Seychelles highlighted: “The different views shared by other participants about their respective countries, the videos and case studies which enable me to better understand the different topics covered.”

The course is one of a series of training opportunities offered free of charge to member countries as an activity of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement by the 54 Commonwealth nations to work together to tackle global ocean challenges. It was made possible with funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies and the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation.

Commonwealth countries pilot new tool to gauge climate and ocean risks

The Commonwealth Secretariat and US-based Stimson Center have teamed up to pilot a new process to quickly determine climate vulnerability and risks in coastal communities.

This ‘rapid assessment protocol’, developed under the Stimson Center’s Coastal Resilience Vulnerability Index (CORVI) Project, will be trialled in the Commonwealth countries of Barbados, Kiribati and Sri Lanka.

The project partnership is in part generously supported by the United Kingdom’s Blue Planet Fund through the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA) which the Commonwealth Secretariat recently joined as a member.

It aims to support better decision making and more climate-smart investments by clearly outlining the financial, political, and ecological risks that climate change poses to a small island country or coastal city.

The Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dr Nicholas Hardman-Mountford said: “We are thrilled to be piloting this approach in Commonwealth countries, as it wholly aligns with the aims of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement by all 54 member countries to work together to solve global ocean challenges, such as coastal climate risk.

“This new partnership builds on the momentum achieved during discussions at the UN Climate Conference COP26 on ocean and climate action. It will allow the participating countries on the frontlines of the climate crisis to assess and tackle the urgent and long-term vulnerabilities they face, with targeted actions and investments.”

Normally, undertaking a full ocean and climate risk assessment under CORVI would take at least 18 months. However, the rapid assessment process will take place over just three months, providing countries with a first-look risk picture which could then be further elaborated through dedicated projects.

The first phase of the four-month project commenced in December 2021. The three pilot countries will engage with the methodology, receive the rapid assessment results and determine next steps to help their coastal communities advance climate-smart policies and build resilience.

All three pilot countries are leading on ocean action as champion countries under the Commonwealth Blue Charter. Barbados co-leads the action group on marine protected areas (along with Seychelles), Kiribati co-leads the action group on sustainable coastal fisheries (with Maldives), and Sri Lanka champions the action group on mangrove ecosystems and livelihoods.

New funding for improving access to blue climate finance

The Commonwealth Secretariat is announcing the appointment of a consortium of experts to advise on ocean-climate finance. Generously supported by the United Kingdom, the appointment is a joint venture of the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub and the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

The consortium will  work with Commonwealth governments, through the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub’s regional and national climate finance advisers, to help them develop proposals and access funding for ocean-based adaptation and mitigation activities, as detailed in national climate plans submitted to the United Nations.

The consortium will also work to strengthen institutional and individual capacity and knowledge in use of financial instruments and financing mechanisms for climate finance proposals.

Ocean crisis

Dr Arjoon Suddhoo, Deputy Secretary-General at the Commonwealth Secretariat said: “We know that the climate crisis is also an ocean crisis. The importance of the ocean can be better reflected in current access to climate financing. This collaboration with support from the United Kingdom will begin to address this fundamental issue’.

This appointment will initially be until March 2022. This funding builds on previous support over 2018 – 2020 by the United Kingdom to the Commonwealth Secretariat to support the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is a commitment by 54 countries to cooperate actively to tackle the global challenges facing our ocean. It is implemented through ten action groups that are led by 16 champion countries that engage members and other partners around key issues such as marine pollution, ocean climate action and the sustainable blue economy.

The Commonwealth Finance Access Hub helps small and other vulnerable member states to access climate finance by embedding highly-skilled long-term national and regional advisers in relevant government departments to build capacity and help develop successful funding proposals. CCFAH has deployed advisers in 16 countries, and to date, secured around US$44 million in climate finance, with US$ 762 million in the pipeline.