With a global ocean economy worth trillions, no conversation about marine protection is complete without considering socio-economic concerns. Billions of people around the world depend on a healthy ocean for food, jobs, and a way of life. Today, long-standing pressures like fishing, shipping and development are being compounded by a changing climate. It has never been more urgent to work across sectors and borders to plan a sustainable future for our ocean. That is why we at the World Heritage Marine Programme were so pleased to join the Monaco Blue Initiative (MBI) in Edinburgh earlier this month to discuss global trends in marine conservation.
MBI brings together government, civil society, science and private sector leaders to discuss ocean management. Launched in 2010 by H.S.H. Prince Albert II of Monaco, the Initiative is co-organised by the Oceanographic Institute and the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation. Its members meet annually to discuss the intersection of economic and environmental concerns in ocean management.
MBI’s 2018 edition took place in Edinburgh in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh. Despite the many challenges the oceans face, a sense of optimism among this years’ MBI attendees and speakers was palpable. Indeed, countries have made big strides toward establishing more and bigger marine protected areas in recent years. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, 6,97% of the ocean is now covered by marine protected areas. There is undeniably much reason to celebrate when the international target of 10% coastal and marine protected areas set nearly two decades ago is finally within reach.
The World Heritage Marine Programme was invited to share how the world’s flagship MPAs navigate effective management in a rapidly changing climate. Working every day across 49 MPAs in 37 countries gives the World Heritage Marine Programme a unique perspective on the state of marine conservation. It allows detecting trends – positive and negative – across the different socio-economic contexts in which MPAs operate.
Through the monitoring the Word Heritage Convention provides for its listed MPAs, it is clear that serious management challenges remain, even for well-resourced and high-profile sites. At least 30 percent of World Heritage marine sites still struggle with illegal, unreported or unregulated fisheries. Just last year, for example, Galapagos National Park intercepted thousands of dead sharks caught in its marine reserve. The precipitous population decline of the iconic vaquita in the Gulf of California, Mexico, is but one warning sign of a lack of robust fisheries management in several World Heritage sites. Plastic pollution affects multiple sites in the Pacific and Indian oceans. Twenty-five of 29 World Heritage-listed coral reefs experienced bleaching stress in the last three years, where record-breaking temperatures caused the worst mortalities ever observed.
Considering the monumental effort required to reverse the decline of our oceans, we should celebrate every single accomplishment small or big. Yet at the same time we should not lose sight of the every-day reality on the ground especially in some of our most beloved and significant ocean areas.
As H.S.H. Albert II of Monaco noted in his opening address in Edinburgh, world leaders have come together to chart a path forward. But now we must deliver on those commitments. One hundred and ninety-three nations have signed the 1972 World Heritage Convention, pledging to protect the planet’s most precious places. Yet World Heritage sites are still facing tremendous challenges that could be solved with coordinated action.
One hundred and ninety-six nations have ratified the Convention on Biodiversity and committed to conserving 10 percent of the world’s oceans in effectively and equitably managedmarine protected areas by 2020. With less than 2 years to go, we need to consider how we can muster the same public and political will for MPA management as we have for MPA creation. As H.R.H. The Princess Royal and Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh emphasized in her closing address, our generation has more power than ever before to make the change the ocean needs. But this might also be the last real chance to make that change.
With thanks to the Principality of Monaco for their leadership in ocean conservation and the support to the World Heritage Centre for the protection of marine sites.The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of UNESCO.