Conference delivers real action to protect the oceans

 President Barack Obama delivering his remarks at Our Ocean 2016 Conference. Source - US Dept. of State

“We have to do things smarter and we have to do things faster”

Those were some words from John Kerry the United States Secretary of State as he opened the Our Ocean conference at the US State Department in Washington D.C. last week. Secretary Kerry was referring to the dire straits our ocean is in and the actions needed to reverse the trend.

“I grew up in Hawaii. The ocean is really nice there. And anybody who grows up on an island - certainly those of us who grew up in Hawaii - learn to appreciate very early on its magic, how it inspires awe, and sometimes, if the waves are a little too big and you’ve gone a little too far out, how it inspires fear and a healthy respect. And the notion that the ocean I grew up with is not something that I can pass on to my kids and my grandkids is unacceptable. It's unimaginable.” President Barrack Obama said at the Our Ocean Conference.

President Barrack Obama who was the keynote speaker at the conference said “the problem that confronts all of us today is that we’re asking far too much of our ocean in asking it to adapt to us”. Life on Earth depends on the ocean. A healthy ocean is central to human wellbeing. The ocean feeds billions of people, employs millions of workers, and generates trillions of dollars in the world economy.

 A breathtaking view of the ocean from the view point on Cousin Island Special Reserve, a Marine Protected Area

Yet, as vast as the ocean and its resources are, they are not infinite. And today the ocean is under tremendous pressure from human activity – including unsustainable and illegal fishing, marine pollution, and climate-related impacts: the majority of fishing zones of the world are depleted, coral reefs are dying and the ocean is acidifying.

The official mandate of the Our Ocean Conference is about taking actions for the ocean. It’s about conservation of marine ecosystems and sustainable use of marine resources – as the world agreed in the sustainable development goals. It’s about a blue economy in which science-based conservation and sustainable management of the ocean and its resources is the pathway to economic development and growth, not the obstacle.

“The main aim of the conference was to galvanize countries and institutions to do something real to protect this lifeblood of humanity. I’ve attended more than a hundred international conferences but this is the first time I’ve been to one where over 50 leaders ranging from President Obama, Foreign Ministers, CEOs of companies, heads of international NGOs and chairs of philanthropic institutions each made a concrete commitment to save our common ocean. In fact no one was allowed to speak unless he or she rolled something new out, be it technology, partnerships, funding or marine protected areas” said Dr. Nirmal Jivan Shah Chief Executive of Nature Seychelles who attended the 2 day conference.

 Shah announcing the launch of FAMS, a go-to resource for ocean science in the region

Indeed, in the plenary session of the conference Shah formally launched the Forum of African Marine Science (FAMS) a new network between science academies, universities, and organizations from over twelve African countries designed to enhance communication and collaboration on ocean science, host academic exchanges to strengthen local capacity, and support ocean and blue economy policy engagement across Africa.

“This is a unique association of senior academics and experts and we want to be a go-to resource for government, international organizations and donors” says Shah.

The Seychelles government announced that it will establish up to 400,000 square kilometers of marine protected area (30 percent of its EEZ) by 2020 as part of a comprehensive marine spatial plan for its entire EEZ via a debt swap of up to $27 million with its Paris Club creditors and the Government of South Africa, with the support of the Nature Conservancy and private capital investors interested in marine conservation. The announcement was made on the main stage by Ms. Rebecca Loustau Lallane the Principal Secretary of the Blue Economy Department who spoke on behalf of Mr. Jean Paul Adam the Minister of Finance, Trade and Blue Economy who missed the conference at the last moment owing to commitments back home.

 136 new initiatives, $5.24 billion, 4 million sq kilometers of the ocean to be protected

Shah, who admits he skips many international environmental conferences because they are simply “talk shops”, promising more than they actually deliver, says he was intrigued by the Our Ocean vision and mission and was persuaded to accept John Kerry’s invitation to the conference by Dr. Jane Lubchenco the White House Science Envoy for the Oceans who was in Seychelles recently.

“Although the conference was at such a senior level it was small and select compared to the massive summits nowadays, such as the recently concluded World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, where thousands of participants create a ‘Tower of Babel’ and prevent any real interaction. Here I was able to network with top people from key international organizations, companies, foundations and governments agencies” says Shah.

The conference was a huge success in terms of concrete commitments being rolled out. Participants announced over 136 new initiatives on marine conservation and protection valued at more than $5.24 billion, as well as new commitments on the protection of almost four million square kilometers (over 1.5 million square miles) of the ocean. The commitments focus on the key ocean issues of our time: marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, and climate-related impacts on the ocean.

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