New policy handbook to help governments fight ocean acidification

A new policy handbook, launched today, will help Commonwealth governments put in place strategies to tackle ocean acidification – a key aspect of climate change.

Ocean acidification happens when the sea absorbs excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, primarily caused by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

This leads to an increase in the acidity of the ocean, affecting the lifecycles and biology of certain marine species, and in turn, threatening the entire food web as well as the lives and livelihoods of communities that depend on these ocean resources.

Pragmatic solutions

Tackling this challenge requires technical expertise and capacity that are often not available in Commonwealth countries. The new handbook addresses this gap by identifying existing resources, streamlining technical concepts, outlining pragmatic solutions and providing useful templates for policy makers.

The handbook was commissioned by the New Zealand government, which champions the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Ocean Acidification.

The Foreign Affairs Minister of New Zealand, Nanaia Mahuta said:

“We know that ocean acidification has serious consequences for sea life, and this Policymakers’ Handbook for Addressing the Impacts of Ocean Acidification is an important resource. It is designed for people who make decisions about how we use and protect our oceans. It introduces them to the steps needed to address ocean acidification. It enables them to act as ‘kaitiaki’ or guardians.”

Far-reaching value

Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland stated:

“The study of ocean acidification and its effects has grown dramatically in the past 15 years, and while the problem is global, it is important for national and regional responses to be developed to address local impacts. The handbook has the potential to deliver far-reaching and lasting value, by supporting the identification and implementation by policymakers of response strategies to ocean acidification.”

A particular focus in the handbook is on collaboration, which is a distinctive feature of the Commonwealth Blue Charter, an agreement adopted in 2018 by the 54 Commonwealth member countries to work together to solve ocean challenges.

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is implemented through 10 action groups led by 15 “champion countries”, which focus on guiding the development of knowledge, tools and training on ocean priorities such as marine plastic pollution, ocean climate change, and the sustainable blue economy.

Working together

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

“This new handbook is an example of the concrete and practical outcomes that are generated by the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Groups and their discussions. While we all understand the grave threats that confront the ocean – and consequently, the entire planet – we must also realise that we, as the global community, can do something about it, by working together to share expertise, pool resources and align national and regional strategies to existing global commitments.”

The launch of this publication follows on the first-ever workshop by the Commonwealth Ocean Acidification Action Group, hosted in 2019 by New Zealand in its role as Champion Country for the group. The workshop included discussions among scientific experts and observers, joined by government officials from 17 Commonwealth countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Mozambique, New Zealand, Samoa, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Tonga, Tuvalu, United Kingdom, and Vanuatu. They identified strategies to address the impacts of ocean acidification, including marine monitoring, capacity development, ocean literacy, governance, and management.

Handbook templates

Event: Path to Action – Addressing the Impacts of Ocean Acidification

 New Zealand, as the Champion for the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on Ocean Acidification has developed a Handbook to support policymakers’ efforts to identify and implement ocean acidification response strategies. This handbook will be unveiled at a special web event in collaboration with the Commonwealth Secretariat. 

Key recommendations from the handbook will be presented to highlight region-specific actions and implementation plans and will consist of comments from the panellists followed by a general Q & A with the audience.


  • Hon Nanaia Mahuta, Minister of Foreign Affairs New Zealand (video remarks) 
  • Dr Nick Hardman-Mountford, Head of Oceans & Natural Resources, Commonwealth Secretariat (mod.) 
  • Dr Christina McGraw, Chair – New Zealand Ocean Acidification Community Council and Senior Lecturer, University of Otaga 
  • Dr Jacqueline Uku, President – WIOMSA, Kenya Marine & Fisheries Research Institute (Session I) 
  • Jessie Turner, Project Manager, Secretariat for the OA Alliance (Session I) 
  • Alexis Valauri-Orton, Program Officer, The Ocean Foundation (Session II) 
  • Dr R Duncan McIntosh, Oceanography Officer, SPREP (Session II)

webinar speakers


More information

For more information contact: [email protected]

Case Study: Litter Intelligence Programme, New Zealand (on-going)

The Commonwealth Blue Charter is highlighting case studies from the Commonwealth and beyond, as part of a series to spotlight best practice successes and experiences.

To share your own case study, please contact us

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“We cannot improve what we do not measure’ has become a common phrase in the environmental space. However, robust environmental monitoring programmes are few and far between, and where they do exist, communities are seldom engaged with the monitoring work and data that inform the decisions that shape their communities.

“Litter Intelligence provides these communities, and specifically schools, with a unique opportunity to connect with their local coastline, engage in critical monitoring work, and protect the places they love.”

Camden Howitt, Co-Founder and Coastlines Lead at Sustainable Coastlines


Led by New Zealand charity Sustainable Coastlines, Litter Intelligence collects data, provides insights and inspires action towards reducing marine litter. Launched in May 2018, Litter Intelligence is a long-term programme that combines citizen-science beach litter monitoring and innovative teacher training and education to build a strong understanding of the problem and solutions for litter in the marine environment.

To collect and input litter data, Sustainable Coastlines engages communities around New Zealand, providing the training, equipment and technology required for people to take part in the programme as “Citizen Scientists”. By working to a United Nations Environment Programme/Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission methodology (Cheshire et al., 2009), data are collected with a high standard of scientific rigour, for use for national, regional and international reporting, including the relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals.

The programme focuses on solving the litter problem long term, with an innovative education programme that inspires and enables educators and their students to connect with nature and take action on litter in their local community, all the while gaining curriculum credits.

To roll out the education programme, the charity provides professional development training for educators. The approach is innovative and holistic, and is structured around a robust behavioural change framework. It focuses on educator professional development rather than resource design, so educational impacts are long term and scalable.

All data and training resources are freely and openly available through the purpose-built Litter Intelligence platform at

The issue

Plastics reach the marine environment through a variety of land- and sea-based human activities; therefore, marine litter results from human behaviour, whether accidental or intentional. Any measure to address the issue of marine litter must thus also seek to educate and inform communities, to ultimately alter human behaviour. To understand which measures will have the greatest impact in relation to reducing quantities of plastics in the marine environment, it must first be understood which items are most commonly found, and where these items originate (the source). Although marine plastic pollution is a global issue, the quantities and types of plastic, as well as their individual sources, vary greatly depending on where you are in the world. As such, any country or organisation wishing to take action on reducing marine plastics must first understand the specific issues in the area considered (be this a stretch of coastline, a municipality, a small island, a region or even an entire country).

One of the best indicators of types and quantities of marine plastics in any given area is the presence of plastics at the coast, or more specifically on beaches.

Monitoring of litter on the coastline is also one of the most accessible ways to gather data on marine plastics, as no specific scientific apparatus is required, and reliable, consistent data can be collected at a relatively low cost.

The response

Litter Intelligence provides local communities with the means to tackle specific marine litter issues in their local areas, by inspiring and informing better decisions for a world without litter. It does this by connecting people to nature, engaging communities with citizen science, and arming them with influencing tools with innovative and holistic education. The programme incorporates the following two components:

  1. A school education programme (primary and secondary) and teacher professional development that focus on the connection between nature and positive behaviour change, rather than simply education and awareness on marine litter. Through the programme, the school also adopts and monitors a nearby beach. Schools are provided with training to undertake the monitoring, and an inquiry-based programme that builds on the data collected at the local beach (e.g. integrated learning experiences ranging from maths, statistically analysing data, to crafting a response through the arts), working towards encouraging school communities to identify specific issues in their local area and take action to address these.
  2. An ongoing Citizen Science beach litter monitoring programme, in which school-based Citizen Scientists are an integral part of a nationwide programme and network of other monitoring groups. The data collected contribute to an official national litter database, which presents analysis of the data submitted and includes quality assurance and quality control to ensure data quality. The volunteer groups are permitted to submit data only if they have undergone the dedicated Litter Intelligence training. Confidence in the data is such that the New Zealand government uses it to inform policy

The programme is built on standardised beach litter monitoring, which is a localised adaptation of the United Nations Environment Programme/Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission methodology (Cheshire et al., 2009).

Partnerships and support

Litter Intelligence is led by New Zealand charity Sustainable Coastlines, in close collaboration with the Ministry for the Environment, Statistics New Zealand and the Department of Conservation. The project is funded by the New Zealand Ministry for the Environment’s Waste Minimisation Fund. The initial funding was for NS$2.7 million, and included design and development of the programme, as well as its operation (May 2018– April 2021). Sustainable Coastlines is currently seeking funding(1) to extend Litter Intelligence as a core on-going programme in New Zealand and to expand its reach to countries around the Pacific, and eventually around the world.

The programme was initially launched through a nongovernmental organisation statement at the UN Ocean Conference in New York in June 2017, and was subsequently listed as a voluntary commitment on the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 Ocean Action platform.

Litter Intelligence was also introduced to participants at the Pacific Environment Forum in Apia, Samoa, in September 2019. Alongside this, the charity ran training and an initial litter survey with forum attendees and staff from the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

Results, accomplishments and outcomes

The Litter Intelligence Programme has been running since May 2018 and has already has significant impacts on policy, environment, awareness, behaviour change and community action.

The Litter Intelligence database is fully operational and set up to house data from anywhere in the world, although it currently contains only data from New Zealand and a pilot monitoring site in Samoa. The education programme has been established in 13 New Zealand schools, with dozens more schools around the country soon to join.

Litter Intelligence has informed national-level SDG monitoring efforts; the programme was included in New Zealand’s first Voluntary National Review on the SDGs, presented at the High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2019 (for the SDG indicator 14.1.1 on marine plastics). As the data from Litter Intelligence inform the SDG monitoring and reporting efforts, the programme is expected to have a global-level impact on policy (MFAT, 2019: 101).

In October 2019, Litter Intelligence beach litter data were also included in “Our Marine Environment”, an official government report. This was the first time that marine litter data had been included in official reporting, and the first time that Citizen Science data had been accepted at this highest national reporting level (Stats NZ and Ministry for Environment, 2019: 29-31).


Three main challenges identified during implementation in New Zealand and through working with other countries around the Pacific Islands are as follows:

  1. Cultural adaptation. Ensuring all communities (including indigenous communities such as the tangata whenua (māori) communities in New Zealand) are equally reached requires much more than simply language translation and needs to be done with a holistic cultural lens and in direct consultation with the communities it aims to serve.
  2. Funding and resources. While the programme is funded for a three-year design and development phase, long-term funding is always challenging. The charity is investigating a range of sources for long-term programme resourcing.
  3. Standardisation. The majority of challenges with standardisation have been addressed through a robust training programme, making use of technology and strong communication tools. However, citizen science programmes by their nature require on-going training and support to ensure data quality.

Key lessons learnt

Sustainable Coastlines has concluded that education resources and technology alone cannot engage communities and develop capacity. Communities need human contact, training and support to continue to motivate and inspire them to engage with the programme. The vast majority of the environmental education programmes researched tend to focus on lesson plans and resource production, or some combination of these, while the overwhelming majority of behaviour change research suggests that these approaches have limited effect. This programme focuses on a holistic and innovative approach that does more to support (often) under-resourced schools with the hands-on environmental engagement needed to create long-term change.

Lead contact

Camden Howitt, Sustainable Coastlines: [email protected]


Cheshire, A.C., Adler, E., Barbière, J., Cohen, Y. et al. (2009) “UNEP/IOC Guidelines on Survey and Monitoring of Marine Litter”. UNEP Regional Seas Reports and Studies No. 186; IOC Technical Series No. 83.

MFAT (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) (2019) “He Waka Eke Noa: Towards a Better Future, Together. New Zealand’s Progress towards the SDGS 2019”. Voluntary National Review. New-Zealand-Voluntary-National-Review-2019-Final. pdf

Stats NZ and Ministry for the Environment (2019) “Our Marine Environment 2019”. publications/environmental-reporting/our-marineenvironment-2019


  1. The estimated costs to support and maintain the national Citizen Science and Education programme in New Zealand, as well as support the technology behind it, are estimated at between NS$250,000 and $300,000 per year. To expand the programme to additional countries (e.g. Pacific Island countries) it is estimated that between $100,000 and $150,000 will be required per country, plus around $15,000 per year for support and maintenance.



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Blue Charter action group makes strides toward tackling ocean acidification

The inaugural Blue Charter action group meeting on ocean acidification has brought us a step closer to finding solutions to the detrimental impacts of rising pH levels on ocean life, Commonwealth Head of Oceans and Natural Resources stated.

Nick Hardman-Mountford was speaking at the end of a three-day workshop led by the government of New Zealand, which champions the Ocean Acidification Action Group – part of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.  The Charter is a joint commitment by member countries to protect the ocean and sustainably manage its resources.

More than forty-five participants, including experts, scientists and Commonwealth marine officials met in Dunedin, New Zealand, to explore the impacts of ocean acidification and strategies that policymakers can to use to address the growing issue.

“As carbon emissions increase we see a worrying rise in the levels of acidity in our ocean. This poses a serious threat to marine life, particularly shellfish, urchins, corals, plankton and other creatures with calcium carbonate shells and skeletons. The impact on the health of our ocean if we continue on this destructive trajectory is dire,” said Dr Hardman-Mountford.

He added, “I am really pleased that New Zealand and others are taking steps to identify options for effective monitoring and research around ocean acidification, and exploring mitigation, adaptation and resilience strategies.”

The workshop is the latest in a series of activities around the Blue Charter programme. Earlier this month, the Commonwealth along with ocean research institute Nekton and its partners, launched a ground-breaking scientific research expedition into the unexplored depths of the Indian Ocean. The data gathered will help governments and those who make decisions on important ocean governance issues such as conservation, climate change and fishing.

Dr Bronte Tilbrook, a senior principle researcher at Australia’s national research agency and chair of the Global Ocean Acidification Observing Network, stressed the importance of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

He said, “Ocean acidification is happening and is going to impact  all countries with ocean domains. The Blue Charter is allowing governments and scientists to work together to make informed decisions on actions. There is nothing similar anywhere else.”

Nathan Glassey, a senior official at the New Zealand’s Foreign Ministry, added that the well-attended workshop on ocean acidification showed that countries see real benefit in the Commonwealth’s leadership on the issue.

“People were clearly excited about the opportunity to harness the Commonwealth’s collective power to address the impacts of ocean acidification”.

Mr Glassey said that the next step is to take stock of the practical ideas that emerged during the workshop. “We want to consolidate the Action Group’s membership and turn some of these ideas into reality.”

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.