Blue Charter group gears up to protect and restore ‘priceless’ coral reefs

Commonwealth countries devoted to saving the world’s coral reefs met in Townsville, Australia this week to outline immediate and long-term actions they can take to ensure the health of coral reef ecosystems.

Studies show more than half the planet’s coral reefs have suffered significant losses over the last 30 years. This could rise to 90 per cent within the next century, if current trends continue.

This harsh reality – mainly due to climate change – disproportionately affects Commonwealth states whose waters include 42 per cent of the world’s coral reefs.

In response, Australia, Belize and Mauritius are co-championing an action group made up of like-minded members that include Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and Vanuatu.

The action group is part of the Commonwealth Blue Charter – a milestone commitment made by the 53 Commonwealth nations to cooperate on sustainable ocean governance.

Hosted by the Australian Institute of Maritime Science (AIMS) from 9 to 11 July, the meeting looked at how countries could make a difference by co-ordinating national, regional and global actions, building on each other’s experiences, and upscaling solutions for in-water action.

AIMS Chief Executive Officer Paul Hardisty said the enormous economic, social and cultural value of coral reef systems is worth the effort, adding: “It’s great to see all these members of the Commonwealth countries out here with a common purpose.  They are tackling how to turn the shared ambition of the Blue Charter into very specific actionable elements – that’s where the critical path to success lies.

“There are some fantastic ideas being shared, looking at values – not only for ecosystem services and economic value but also the cultural and indigenous values of our communities – to come up with tractable methodologies that everyone can share.”

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, for instance, supports 64,000 jobs and generates $6.4 billion each year for the country’s economy through tourism, fishing, recreational and scientific activities.

Globally, more than 500 million people depend directly on coral reefs for food, income and coastal protection. In fact, one square kilometre of healthy, well-managed coral reef can provide more than 15 tonnes of fish and other seafood each year.

Commonwealth Head of Ocean and Natural Resources Nicholas Hardman-Mountford said: “Coral reefs are priceless. They protect our coasts and populations from the devastating impacts of tsunamis and extreme weather disasters, they are home to a quarter of all marine species, and they provide for our livelihoods and well-being.

“For millions of people in the Commonwealth, especially in small island states, coral reefs are integral to their identity and local culture, centred on the ocean. Yet human activities and above all climate change are devastating reefs at unprecedented rates. This is why the work of this action group is vital.”

Delegates discussed ways to improve government policies, build awareness, and empower communities, while also tackling barriers such as lack of funding, limited capacity and weak governance structures.

They highlighted the need for the action group to monitor progress, share information and work with the right partners, including a strategy to engage scientific institutions, governments, private sector and civil society to support coral reef initiatives.

The outcomes of the meeting will contribute to implementing the short, medium and long term goals of the action group.

Commonwealth countries rally behind ocean action

A gathering hosted by the New Zealand High Commission at the Royal Academy of Arts in London on Monday, heard widespread support for the various action groups under the Blue Charter, which was unveiled by Commonwealth leaders at their last meeting in April.

Actions groups are led by ‘champion countries’ and focus on eight key areas: marine plastic pollution, blue economy, coral reef protection and restoration, mangroves, ocean acidification, ocean and climate change, ocean observations and aquaculture.

New Zealand Minister of Conservation Eugenie Sage called the Blue Charter initiative a “model for bold, coordinated leadership.” As champion for the action group on ocean acidification,

New Zealand will focus on building a better understanding of the issue, identifying challenges, and connecting Commonwealth countries to ocean acidification networks.

“We are really impressed and pleased by the many Commonwealth countries that are involved in the action group [on ocean acidification],” said Hon Sage, acknowledging Australia, Barbados, Canada, Mozambique, Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and the UK.

Thérèse Coffey, Parliamentary Under Secretary at the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Areas added: “The Blue Charter is so important, not only for Commonwealth countries, but for the entire world… I’m really proud to be working with Vanuatu taking forward action on the Clean Oceans Alliance and I’m very proud that we’re also joining other action groups.”

Alongside Vanuatu, the UK leads the action group on marine pollution, which includes 20 members in total from all regions of the Commonwealth.

“This is something that the Commonwealth can celebrate. I’m really pleased the Commonwealth Secretariat is continuing to make sure that these things come through, but together as nations we really can be champions for something that is exceptionally precious to us,” she said.

Special guest at the event, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Oceans, Peter Thomson, commended the “wave of ocean action” in the international community, and encouraged collaboration with the United Nations Communities on Ocean Action.

Delegates from Fiji and Australia also made presentations on their countries’ ocean activities. Fiji leads the action group on ocean and climate change, and is planning an event on the Blue Charter in the margins of the UN Climate Change Conference COP24, to be held in Poland in December.

Commonwealth Director of Trade, Oceans and Natural Resources, Paulo Kautoke recognised the crucial role of the ocean in Commonwealth economies, cultures and communities, and called on governments as well as non-government organisations to join the action groups and intensify collaboration on ocean issues.

 

 

Strong partners will deliver on Commonwealth Blue Charter, says Secretary-General

Protecting the ocean today is the best way of ensuring prosperity for future generations, says Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland.

Her remarks came at a session on the Commonwealth Blue Charter on sustainable ocean governance, held on the margins of the 49th Pacific Islands Forum in Nauru, which ran from 3 to 6 September 2018.

The Secretary-General applauded the leadership of Pacific nations and agencies on ocean and climate issues internationally, and Pacific regional agreements on ocean sustainability and governance, such as the ‘Blue Pacific’ framework for regionalism.

“The Blue Pacific Framework and Commonwealth Blue Charter go hand in glove as commitments that lead the world in working towards sustainable ocean governance,” she said.

She stressed that strong regional co-operation will be key to delivering on the charter.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter was adopted in April by Commonwealth heads of government and has eight action groups, including four that are championed or co-championed by Pacific countries.

Fiji leads the action group on ocean and climate change; Vanuatu and the UK co-champion the group on marine plastic pollution; New Zealand leads on ocean acidification; and Australia, along with Mauritius and Belize, leads the group on coral reef restoration.

“Now is the time to be reaching out to other governments and organisations to join action groups that reflect shared interests and priorities. This will only work if we work together,” said Nicholas Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans and Natural Resources at the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The session discussions highlighted a range of initiatives aimed at protecting the ocean and its resources, including from plastics in the waste stream.

A key example is legislation passed in Vanuatu to ban single-use plastic bags, plastic straws and polystyrene containers. The country began implementing the ban in July 2018. The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) assisted with nation-wide awareness building, while the local plastics industry was exploring ways to reduce their impact on the environment.

Participants stressed that good communication strategies were essential to raising public awareness and engagement, as a change in the usual practices could not succeed without a change in attitude.

Pacific regional agencies also pointed out the importance of linking commitments with action, as well as working through existing mechanisms.

The Secretary-General underlined the value of joint action, and said the Commonwealth was keen to collaborate with other partners: “Each of our members is a member of a wider family. This is an opportunity for everyone, led by countries but embracing all of our friends, to deliver something that is better than we can do on our own”.

Learn more about the Blue Charter

World Ocean Day 2018: A Blue Charter for a blue planet

International concern for the plight of the global ocean is at an all-time high. In April this year, the 53 countries of the Commonwealth adopted the Commonwealth Blue Charter, creating a bright blue beacon to guide cooperative action on ocean issues.

World Oceans Day has come a long way from 1992 when it was first proposed by Canada. Now the ocean has its own Sustainable Development Goal, thanks to the foresight of Peter Thomson and many others. SDG 14 commits countries to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.”

Our ocean and the coastal communities around it are receiving a lot of negative news coverage – about plastic rubbish, declining fisheries, acidification, rising sea levels, destructive hurricanes. But now countries recognise that time is of the essence and they are cooperating to achieve their goals.

In the Blue Charter’s own words, the time has come to “move from words to actions.”

Already, eight Action Groups are being established, led by Commonwealth countries. More are anticipated.

Innovation is key to this whole issue. We need practical new ideas for on-the-ground action – that’s what the Action Groups aim to deliver

For example, Australia, Belize, and Mauritius have stepped forward to co-lead a Blue Charter Action Group on coral reef regeneration. Just a few years ago, scientists were lonely voices sounding the alarm about coral. Now it is common knowledge that the world’s reefs are in peril.

Commonwealth countries realise that their work must go beyond protecting coral reefs to actively restoring them. And they are stepping up to the task!

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Likewise, Sri Lanka is leading a Mangrove Restoration Action Group. Cyprus is leading on sustainable aquaculture, and New Zealand is tackling ocean acidification. And the list goes on…

“To see Commonwealth leaders stepping forward for the ocean was a real ‘pinch-me moment,’” says Jeff Ardron, who coordinates work under the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

After years of being out of sight, out of mind, the ocean is now on everyone’s minds, and the Commonwealth Blue Charter is a good reason to celebrate World Oceans Day with a pinch of hope.

Mauritius expertise to back Commonwealth fight for coral reefs

The Republic of Mauritius will share valuable marine protection know-how with other Commonwealth countries, using the Commonwealth Blue Charter as a platform to exchange best practices, collaborate on research, and carry out training workshops.

As one of the ‘champion’ countries of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, adopted by 53 countries in April, it co-leads an action group on coral reef restoration along with Australia and Belize.

To highlight the issue of coral degradation and the need for ocean regeneration, the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland took part in a coral-planting ceremony in Mauritius this week, together with the Minister of Ocean Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries, and Shipping, Mr Premdut Koonjoo.

“Climate change poses an existential threat to our small island states, and has lasting impacts on marine ecosystems,” she said. “The vigour, energy and expertise expended in Mauritius to conserve and restore coral reefs is commendable.”

She also hailed the country’s actions in setting up voluntary marine conservation areas, promoting the blue economy, and hosting the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access hub. The hub helps small and vulnerable countries tap into international sources of climate finance for their adaptation and mitigation needs.

“Saving the ocean is a programme for the whole world and we have to work together. I believe if any nation or any person has knowledge, they have to share it, especially where the ocean is concerned,” added Mr. Koonjo.

Ministry officials cited coral reef monitoring, data compilation and analysis as areas where they can share experiences and best practices with other Commonwealth members, aiming to learn from each other.

Meanwhile, they are working to enhance their expertise in ocean-based coral farming, monitoring marine ecosystems, and good fishing practices, seeking also to raise public awareness on coral conservation.