IUCN calls for better ocean governance

Posted: 24 February 2003

Half the world's population is living on the coasts, and human impacts on coastal and marine environments are growing. It will take improvements in international ocean governance to deal with fisheries depletion and deteriorating marine conditions, especially due to pollution, concludes a new report from the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

"Our oceans are slowly dying, and the instruments of governance are inadequate to stop it. There is more information, know-how, and resources to curtail adverse marine impacts, but no solution will stick without improvements in governance," says independent Washington based consultant Lee Kimball, author of International Ocean Governance: Using International Law and Organizations to Manage Marine Resources Sustainably.

Loggerhead turtle caught with fish© NOAAThe report was launched at the United Nations Environment Programme sponsored intergovernmental review of implementation of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities, in Montreal, Canada. Scott Hajost, executive director of IUCN's Washington DC office, who commissioned the report in support of IUCN's Marine Program, says the study contributes to the current international debate on ocean governance and regional approaches.

"It shows people working in international law how conventions have evolved and what gaps remain. For managers in government, business, or civil society, it surveys how international bodies can help them with on-the-ground problems."

Activities on land, such as municipal sewage, agriculture runoff and industrial waste, account for 75 percent of marine pollution and are the main cause of damage to marine habitat. Sea based activities, like offshore oil and gas development, pollution from ships, and waste disposal also contribute to the problems, as these activities damage essential nurseries for marine species, Kimball has confirmed. fish catchFish pulled from the Indian Ocean© Jose Cort/NOAAAs little as five percent of marine life is known to scientists today, but it is disappearing at an unprecedented rate. All seven species of sawfishes are listed on the 2000 IUCN Red List as either Endangered or Critically Endangered. Worldwide consumption and trade in fish products places three-quarters of known fish stocks at risk, while millions of additional tons - nearly one-third of the world's total catch - are discarded at sea to make room for more desirable fish, Kimball found. "The international dimensions of ocean problems loom larger as we learn more about threats to marine species and ecosystems," he says.

Invasive species are transported by international shipping, oceans fill with persistent organic pollutants, and nutrients from sewage and fertilizers cause excessive growth of marine plants. "These challenges require that governments agree on commitments and common programs, in consultation with other stakeholders," Kimball urges.

These issues were addressed last week by policy makers from over 60 countries. They gathered at UNESCO headquarters in Paris for the Global Conference on 'Oceans and Coasts at Rio+10: Toward the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development' that is set for next September in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The group, including 13 ministers and vice-ministers and ocean experts from governments, intergovernmental organizations, NGOs, academic and scientific institutions, and industry, declared their commitment to "rapid and effective action" to protect ocean and coastal areas.

They called for a focus at the summit to be on sustainable development of oceans. Their final statement highlights the need for "development of healthy coastal communities and increased access to sustainable economic livelihoods and wealth derived from the ocean to reduce poverty."

The delegates called for "full implementation and effective compliance with international agreements" and "capacity building for good governance of oceans and coasts."

Many international treaties are in place to govern the marine environment. They include:

  • The Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-Based Sources
  • The International Law of the Sea Convention
  • The Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities
  • The International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea
  • The International Coral Reef Initiative
  • The Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter
  • The Convention on Biological Diversity
  • The Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • The Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, known as the OSPAR Convention
But the effectiveness of international agreements and organizations could be improved, and stronger institutions are needed at regional and national levels, Kimball says. He recommends that regular, informal, regional meetings should be organized for information exchange and collaborative action.

Oily globs from an April 2000 pipeline spill in Swanson Creek, a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay.© NOAAThis recommendation is reinforced by greater understanding of ocean problems and a growing trend toward ecosystems based approaches to ocean management.

Kimball says, "Regional institutions are ideal for reconciling global commitments with the region-specific threats and unique environmental and socioeconomic circumstances."

A regional, ecosystems based framework can be used to evaluate information, set priorities, integrate international conventions, ensure that international programs are mutually supportive, and review progress.

© Environment News Service, December 11, 2001. Republished with permission from ENS, online at: http://ens-news.comLink to full online report:International Ocean Governance: Using International Law and Organisations to Manage Marine Resources Sustainably