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Greater political will needed to create a sustainable ocean economy

20 April 2012
Commonwealth forum explores the challenges of better managing ocean resources

Commonwealth country delegates heard that greater political will is needed to overcome the challenges of ocean governance at the Commonwealth Maritime Boundaries and Ocean Governance Forum held on 17-19 April 2012.

The event, held at the Commonwealth Secretariat’s headquarters in Marlborough House, London, UK, brought together over 20 Commonwealth countries to explore the role of ocean governance in protecting and utilising ocean resources.

Professor Aldo Chircop, Director of the Marine and Environmental Law Institute, Dalhousie University, Canada, and Professor Dan Laffoley, Vice-Chair (Marine) World Commission on Protected Areas, both delivered keynote addresses.

Oceans cover over two-thirds of the planet's surface and represent a vital natural resource bank for current and future generations. An estimated 350 million jobs are linked to the oceans globally.

Yet, they are facing serious threats - from overfishing to pollution - that, if left unchecked, could threaten the stability of the ecosystem.

One billion people in developing countries depend on fish for their primary source of protein yet 85 per cent of the world’s ocean fisheries are categorised as fully exploited, over-exploited or depleted.

Professor Chircop told delegates that while “there has been significant progress in international regime-building [of ocean governance] since 1992, there has been less than commensurate national action to implement international commitments”.

He added: “It is this inconsistent lack of political commitment, especially for the long-term, that continues to be the major challenge for ocean governance.”

In a message to delegates, Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ransford Smith said the increasing nature and complexity of human impacts on the marine environment is compromising the resilience of oceans to respond to these pressures and that a change in governance is needed.

“Governance structures for managing the oceans have not evolved sufficiently to respond to what is happening today. A new paradigm is needed - one that is strategic, integrated and cross-sectoral,” added Mr Smith.

The workshop explored how such a paradigm of ocean governance should encompass the need for healthy, productive and biologically diverse oceans, and the sustainable economic development of marine resources.

It also served to educate member countries on the myriad ways in which they can benefit from the ocean economy, apart from traditional areas such as fishing and tourism, and how the Secretariat can assist member states on maritime boundaries and ocean governance.

José Maurel, Director of the Special Advisory Services Division at the Secretariat said: “We strongly believe that, for many smaller Commonwealth countries, the ocean offers an important opportunity for sustainable economic and social development.

“It is clear that the full potential of the ocean is not being realised, and in many instances the basis for future growth of benefits from ocean goods and services is being eroded or lost.”

Maritime boundaries are established between states by international treaties and agreements. They provide a basis for the exercise by states of sovereign rights and jurisdiction over areas of ocean space, thereby securing exclusive access to the potentially lucrative natural resources of the seabed.

Since the 2009 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, the Secretariat has provided legal, scientific and technical assistance to 15 member countries to enable them to complete and lodge submissions, and also engage in maritime boundary negotiations.

Justin Simon QC, Attorney-General of Antigua and Barbuda, praised the workshop: “I am exceedingly happy with the experience and the presentations were very informative. I am leaving here with a deep sense of understanding of the concept of ocean governance.”

He added that he will be seeking further technical assistance from the Secretariat to develop a legislative framework on maritime boundaries and ocean governance for the sub-regional body of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).

Other Commonwealth countries also indicated that they will be requesting further assistance from the Secretariat in delimiting maritime boundaries and strengthening their capacity for ocean governance.

Commonwealth countries that attended the forum were: Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Belize, Cameroon, Dominica, The Gambia, Grenada, Jamaica, Kiribati, Maldives, Mauritius, Namibia, Nauru, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Samoa, Seychelles, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.