10 big wins for the future of our oceans
"We're not going to be the prisoners of history. We're going to change the course of history."
John Kerry, Our Ocean 2016
Climate change, global warming, overfishing, plastic pollution, sea level rise, ocean acidification...the conversation surrounding these issues doesn't have to be so depressing and daunting. We have the opportunity to steer society in a new direction and on a new course: Action. And in that department, there are some very clear signs of progress. September in particular has been a big month for the oceans, thanks to two global conferences that have set the stage for the future of conservation, ocean policy, and natural resource management.
Below we've highlighted the top 5 wins for ocean protection from both the IUCN World Conservation Congress and 2016 Our Ocean Conference. The hundreds of remaining resolutions, commitments, and protections not listed here are no less important and equally responsible for pushing us into what some say will be the decade of ocean protection.
Considering leading scientists agree we only have about 10 years left to turn things around, we say: bring it on.
IUCN World Conservation Congress
Honolulu, HI Sept 1–10th
The IUCN WCC takes place once every four years, bringing together governments, NGOs, experts, indigenous groups, academia, and business to address environmental issues on land and sea and offer solutions to these challenges. This year brought together 10,000 participants from 192 countries and resulted in over 100 resolutions and recommendations adopted by IUCN members. President Obama set the stage with his announcement to more than quadruple the size of The Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument to 582,578 square miles, about the size of the Gulf of Mexico. It is now the largest protected area on earth.
Top 5 Wins:
- More ocean has been protected in the past 18 months than during any other period in history, yet still only 3% is currently protected. To ensure we continue on this path, IUCN members established a goal to set aside 30% of our oceans for protection by 2030.
- IUCN members call for an internationally binding legislation to protect the high seas, the vast swaths of ocean that lie outside of any country’s jurisdiction.
- Mission Blue and IUCN announced 14 new Hope Spots in addition to the 76 established Hope Spots around the world today.
- Members declared that any IUCN ‘protected’ land or sea will also be considered off limits for harmful industrial activities such as oil and gas, mining, infrastructure developments, and agriculture. Up until now, only World Heritage Sites have been recognized as no-go zones.
- Hawaii Governor David Ige committed to protecting 30% of the state’s highest priority watersheds and effectively managing 30% of near shore waters by 2030 in addition to doubling food production and achieving 100% renewable energy by 2045.
Our Ocean Conference
Washington, DC Sept 15–16th
This year’s Our Ocean marked the third year of the annual conference hosted by Secretary of State John Kerry. Leaders from around the world gathered just five days after IUCN WCC’s conclusion to discuss key ocean issues of marine protected areas, sustainable fisheries, marine pollution, climate-related impacts, and the blue economy. The two-day event resulted in over 136 new initiatives for ocean conservation and protection, valuing over $5.24 billion and covering almost 4 million sq km of ocean.
Top 5 Wins:
- Obama announced the first national marine reserve in the Atlantic, the 12,720 sq km Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument. This protected area off the coast of Cape Cod will ban commercial fishing by 2023.
- The UK pledged £20 million to double overseas MPAs within the next four years, designating St. Helena marine protection zone and the Pitcairn Islands marine reserve, and committing to designate the Ascension Island ocean sanctuary and Tristan da Cunha marine protected zone. This amounts to over 1.4 million sq km of new MPA commitments
- Seychelles committed to establishing up to 400,000 sq km of MPA, which will protect 30% of it EEZ. The island nation also announced it will ban single-use plastic bags, plates, cups, and cutlery in 2017.
- Palau announced its final establishment of the National Marine Sanctuary proposed in 2014. The MPA protects Palau’s entire EEZ and sets aside 20% for domestic-only fishing to ensure local food security.
- The Federated States of Micronesia committed to 184,948 sq km of additional marine protection through a 24 nautical mile MPA expansion around each island. Commercial fishing will be banned in these areas.
Thank you to the tens of thousands of IUCN WCC and Our Ocean participants for making 2016 a year that will go down in ocean conservation history and dubbing September 2016 ‘The Month For the Oceans’.