Webinar explores ways to raise money for ocean protection

More than 180 participants from across the globe tuned in online to hear fresh insights on how to finance ocean protected areas in the Commonwealth.

Held on July 22, the webinar was the second in a series organised by the Commonwealth Secretariat, aimed at sharing ideas and solutions for ocean challenges.

During the webinar, ocean experts from Belize to Seychelles focused on securing funding to manage marine protected areas (MPAs). These are important zones set aside by governments, where activities that harm the environment are restricted or even outlawed, to help protect and nurture marine ecosystems.

Webinar Panelists

Watch the highlights video

Watch the full webinar

Before COVID-19, more than 60% of all existing MPAs in the world reported inadequate budgets for basic management. The situation will become even more dire since the pandemic, as governments are likely to further cut funding as they prioritise other sectors.

Opening the event, Jeff Ardron, lead expert on the Commonwealth Blue Charter at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said: “The intrinsic and monetary value of sustainable marine development, including the establishment of protected places, is now widely recognised.

“But despite the high rate of return financially, monetarily and in ecosystem services, the question remains: how can we finance the management of these highly valuable marine locations, where no or very few natural resources are being exploited?”

High costs, new funding sources

Managing marine protected areas can be costly. Funds must support on-the-water patrols, buying and maintaining equipment such as boats and drones, as well as putting in place required infrastructure such as buoys and signage. Office operations and marketing also require budget.

In Seychelles, the total expenditure to manage protected ocean areas in 2017 was US$5.1 million. Now, with 30% of its ocean legally protected – a milestone achieved in March – the government estimates future costs to be US$30-42 million per year.

“Protected area managers are struggling financially, especially due to COVID-19 impact on tourism,” said Seychelles’ Principal Secretary for Environment, Alain de Comarmond.

Traditional finance sources such as grants, entrance fees and corporate social responsibility donations will not be adequate in a post-COVID world.

The government is thus looking to ramp up innovative ways to fund conservation, such as ‘debt-for-nature’ swaps, where creditors agree to reduce sovereign debt if the government invests in marine conservation, as well as ‘blue bonds’ issued by the government, where proceeds go towards ocean protection.

Angelique Brathwaite, Director for the Caribbean at Blue Finance, added that tourism-dependent revenue streams such as visitor centres and underwater attractions have dried up due to COVID-19.

Her organisation, which has included a focus on tourism, is now also looking at other options, such as sustainable fishing and ‘blue carbon’ offsets, whereby MPAs can make an income from their capacity to store carbon in mangroves and sea grass, reducing the impacts of climate change.

Engaging NGOs, private sector

All the panellists agreed that sharing responsibility and costs is essential. In Belize for instance, the government routinely co-manages protected areas with either NGOs or businesses.

Valdemar Andrade, who heads the Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association in Belize said: “This is not an undertaking you can do on your own. All stakeholders, including public and private sectors as well as academia and technical networks need to be involved.”

For the tourist town of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, the private sector has emerged as a vital player.

Jake Kheel, Vice President of the Grupo Punta Cana Foundation, shared how hotels and other businesses are realising that protecting coral reefs is an important part of business strategy.

He said: “The private sector and tourism economy have a great capacity to involve local and fishing communities. For example, [in Punta Cana] they have been training local fishermen to do conservation work, hiring them as boat captains, dive or maintenance staff, so they have become an important asset.”

Alain Maulion, CEO of the Blue Alliance in the Philippines added that his NGO uses both grants and loans to fund operations.

The panel agreed that a combination of revenue streams are needed and solutions would have to be adapted to the circumstances in each country. Key ideas and scalable solutions shared during the webinar will be circulated to participants.

The webinar is part of a series being rolled out to support the Commonwealth Blue Charter – an agreement by all 54 Commonwealth member countries to work actively together to promote ocean health and sustainable ocean development.

 

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

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.