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Why We Must Protect The Ocean

A healthy ocean is vital for humanity. The British Government will spend £500 million (1.44 billion FJD) over the next five years to help protect the world’s oceans.  The ocean
27 Aug 2021 10:00
Why We Must Protect The Ocean

A healthy ocean is vital for humanity. The British Government will spend £500 million (1.44 billion FJD) over the next five years to help protect the world’s oceans. 

The ocean covers 70% of the Earth’s surface.

It provides 50% of the oxygen we breathe, and 17% of the protein that we eat globally: up to 90% in some Pacific Islands.

Weather patterns are driven by ocean currents, and the ocean helps to absorb carbon and heat and reduce the impacts of climate change.

The ocean plays a critical natural role in regulating the climate.

It has long acted as a ‘buffer’ to the effects of climate change, which, combined with other pressures such as pollution and overexploitation, is having a catastrophic impact on ocean health, and its ability to continue to provide functions critical to all life. 

 

Everyone on the planet depends on the ocean, its habitats and species, to support their survival, well-being and livelihoods. 

Globally, the ocean supports economic, social and cultural activities. Billions of people depend on the ocean for their livelihoods and 80% of goods are transported on the ocean.

The marine renewable energy sector is rapidly developing as a cheaper and cleaner energy source, and wild fisheries and aquaculture employ millions of people globally.  

 

For Fiji and the Pacific, the ocean is much more than a source of livelihood, it is a source of well-being, identity and culture. 

In Fiji, the ocean is essential to growing and sustaining the economy: through fishing and harvesting of other marine products, and through the tourism sector that accounts for up to 40% of Fiji’s GDP.

 

But the ocean is being damaged by human activity. 

Climate change caused by human activities is affecting how the ocean functions, damaging coral and reducing the ocean’s ability to sustain life.

It is also leading to changes in the geographical range of important fish species like tuna. Maritime litter is polluting our oceans, and long-lasting plastics are in the food chain of fish, marine reptiles and mammals.

Agriculture, sewage and industrial pollution are affecting water quality.

Over-fishing, often through what is known as IUU – Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing – is depleting fish stocks, sometimes to the extent that they cannot be replenished. Already in the early 1990s, over-fishing led to the collapse of cod stocks in the north-western Atlantic to less than 1% of their former levels, and 30 years on they have not recovered.

 

Climate change impacts and other pressures are also having a devastating effect on marine biodiversity.

Many unique and important species that are unable to adapt to these changes or migrate, including vulnerable ecosystems such as coral reefs or important commercial fish species, will face population decline and extinction.

One third of marine mammals are currently threatened with extinction and   more than 99% of coral reefs will be lost at 2 degrees Celsius warming.

 

Taken together, all these factors spell catastrophe unless action is taken to reduce damage done by human activity, including nutrient and pesticide pollution, over-exploitation of the ocean from unsustainable or destructive fishing practices, extensive development of coastal zones, or damaging extraction practices.

There is a need for caution in new areas such as deep-sea mining, where the level of threat is not yet fully understood. 

 

We also need to work better with nature, as it can help us reach our climate emissions targets and adapt to the impact of climate change.

Many ocean industries can play a significant role in supporting this commitment including marine renewables development, coastal protection and the decarbonisation of shipping which additionally will help develop a more resilient and sustainable society, offering jobs, clean energy and benefits to the economy and communities.

 

Nature-based Solutions for the marine and coastal environment may include management to reduce human activities that can lead to pressures and impacts.

For example, limiting human activities that disturb the seabed can minimise the release of carbon and allow the seabed time to build up and maximise its capacity to store carbon.

This protection can also allow natural recovery of an area that has been previously been disturbed due to human activities, thereby increasing its capacity to adapt and become more resilient to the effects of climate change. 

 

Coastal wetlands can clean polluted water- removing chemicals, nutrients and harmful waste.

This helps maintain safe water conditions and reduces the potential of harmful algal blooms, partially caused by climate change, that lead to eutrophication (excessive growth of algae) and less oxygen in the water. 

 

Sustainable fishing practices are also essential, along with extensive and effective Marine Protected Areas.

There is strong scientific evidence to suggest that effective protection of at least 30% of the global ocean will help to reverse negative impacts on biodiversity and ecosystems, preserve marine species’ populations, increase climate change resilience, adaptation and mitigation, and sustain long-term ocean health.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have major positive and cost-effective adaptation benefits for flood protection, coastal erosion reduction and sea level rise among others.

MPAs protect coastal habitats and prevent the loss and disturbance of these ecosystems, in turn preventing the release of carbon and other GHGs back into the atmosphere, that are stored in the seabed.

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The Blue Planet Fund

Earlier this year the British Government announced plans to spend £500 million (FJD 1.44 billion) over the next five years to help protect the world’s oceans.

On 13 August the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs announced a first tranche of £16.2 million (FJD 46.8 million) for five programmes to tackle climate change, restore ocean health and reduce poverty in developing countries.

 

The programmes, financed from the UK’s overseas aid budget, will increase marine protection, tackle plastic pollution and the decline of global coral reefs, as well as using the UK’s world-leading expertise to help respond to marine pollution disasters. 

This year’s plans include significant funding for two programmes directly supporting Fiji: the Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR) and the Global Ocean Accounts Partnership (GOAP).

 

Coral reefs are amongst the most valuable ecosystems on earth, harbouring incredible biodiversity, supporting 25% of marine life and providing a myriad of benefits to thousands of species.

As well as being some of the most valuable ecosystems on earth, coral reefs are also amongst the ecosystems most vulnerable to unsustainable human activity. 

 

Up to now, investments in coral reef protection have not been adequate or proportionate with the current level of risk or value derived from coral reefs, which has led to a ‘coral reef funding gap’. 

 

The Global Fund for Coral Reefs (GFCR) is a new joint UN fund that aims to conserve and restore coral reefs through innovative financing mechanisms, including private, market-based investments, with a focus on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and on transforming the livelihoods of coral reef-dependent communities. 

 

The Blue Planet Fund will provide a £5 million (FJD 14.4 million) contribution to the GFCR, to support in-country activities potentially including establishing Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), coral restoration, developing sustainable aquaculture and financial mechanisms such as carbon credits, insurance products and blue bonds.

Fiji is one of six countries in which the GFCR will be working under its first funding round. 

 

Another major problem area is that ocean data is unstandardized, poorly connected, and only partially represented in national accounts.

This means that the full value of services provided by the marine environment, and how this value can change over time if resources are not properly managed, is not recognised, resulting in ineffective and unsustainable marine policy decisions. 

 

Through the Blue Planet Fund, the UK will contribute £1m in 2021-22 to the Global Ocean Accounts Partnership (GOAP).

GOAP supports the development and maintenance of ocean natural capital accounts.

Ocean accounts will ensure that the values and benefits of the ocean are recognised and accounted for in policy and decision making to enable sustainable use of marine resources.

 

The UK’s grant will deliver a range of activities to support the creation of ocean accounts. This includes producing guidance materials, training, creation of a global ocean asset data package and establishing ocean account pilots to test practicability. 

 

Over the coming years the Blue Planet Fund will expand its activities and their geographical range, and we expect extensive cooperation with Fiji and other Pacific countries as we work together to ensure the sustainable management of the world’s oceans.

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Other Initiatives

The UK is leading calls for a new global ‘30by30’ target to protect at least 30% of the land and at least 30% of the ocean by 2030.

Over eighty countries, including Fiji, now support the marine protection target.

Countries, experts and campaigners from around the world will come together to agree a set of global biodiversity targets for the next decade at the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), which is to be held in Kunming, China later this year.

We want to see the 30×30 commitment included in those.

 

Discussions are going on in the framework of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to establish a framework for the better protection of biodiversity in ocean areas outside national maritime zones – what is known as Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions, or BBNJ.

We hope for progress towards a solution that will allow for the establishment of internationally recognised marine protected areas in international waters. 

 

Oceans will also be a key subject for discussion at the climate conference, COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November this year.

A reset of humanity’s relationship with nature is needed to put biodiversity on a path to recovery. 

To help achieve this the UK will put nature at the heart of COP26 . 

The UK is working closely with Fiji and other Pacific partners, on a key ocean-climate moment at COP26, to identify practical outcomes that will lead to real world action. 

The UK will champion collective action to address ocean-climate issues.   

 

To protect the ocean and avoid further irreversible impacts of climate change, alongside improving ocean resilience, accelerated and ambitious reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are critical.

It’s vital the world comes together at COP26 and takes renewed action to hold global temperature rise to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, in line with Paris Agreement commitments.

In the context of COP26 we are seeking international support for the Clydebank Declaration for Green Shipping Corridors, an initiative to accelerate the decarbonisation of the shipping sector and its fuel supply, and to establish maritime ‘green corridors’ – specific maritime routes decarbonised from end to end, including fuelling infrastructure and vessels.

 

No-one knows better than the people of the Blue Pacific Continent the importance of responsible and science-based stewardship of the ocean and its resources.

The UK is ready to work with the people of Fiji and the Pacific.

 

Feedback: kelera.sovasiga@fijisun.com.fj



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