Progress toward improving the management of oceans and coast is too slow, agreed the 400 ocean experts and leading decision-makers from 78 countries attending the “Third Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands: Moving the Global Oceans Agenda Forward” (UNESCO, 23 – 28 January). The aim of the conference was to take stock of progress in achieving the objectives adopted by the international community at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD, Johannesburg 2002) and the Millennium Development Goals*, including the goal of improving the lives of coastal communities, i.e. half the population of the world.
Experts attending the conference, which also drew the participation of 38 ministers and high level government representatives, representatives of intergovernmental and nongovernmental organizations, the private sector and the donor community. They warned that:
- The target of eliminating illegal fishing and fishing overcapacity by 2004 and 2005 has not been met and 75% of fish stocks are either being fully exploited or over-fished. Participants said the WSSD targets had been unrealistic. There was particular concern over insufficient national action to meet the fisheries goals. At the international level, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) have launched efforts to improve the situation.**
- In many of the poorest countries, a cycle of extreme poverty coupled with excessive exploitation of the environment needed for survival prevails, contributing to marine pollution and ecosystem degradation.
- The world’s 43 Small Island Developing States (SIDS), which have stewardship over vast areas of the oceans, are having difficulty enforcing conservation policies and controlling developments in their marine environment due to logistical and financial constraints, which have been getting worse because of the recent decline in overseas development assistance.
- The goal of establishing representative networks of marine protected areas by 2012, will only be met in 2085 at the present rate of designation, according to a study presented at the conference.
- No international organization is responsible for tracking progress in the establishment of ecosystem management and of programmes in integrated coastal and ocean management, and there is no regular collection of information on the social and economic well-being of coastal communities.
The experts, however, noted that there has been progress in some areas:
- Half of the (SIDS), as well as a number of other countries, have adopted ecosystem-based management and coastal and ocean management programmes.
- Sixty states have initiated national plans of action to address land-based sources of marine pollution, which account for 80% of ocean pollution.
- Some countries, notably Australia, Palau, the Cook Islands, and Costa Rica, have begun establishing marine protected areas with a view to preserving marine and coastal biodiversity.
- Regarding the implementation of integrated water Resource management, encompassing both marine and land-based management: 14 countries demonstrated “good progress,” 51 have “taken some steps,” while 43 are in the initial stages of implementing this goal.
- South-South cooperation on marine issues among SIDS has been increasing, notably with the establishment of a Consortium of Universities linking the Pacific, Caribbean and Indian Ocean regions.
- The establishment of a process for regular, global reporting on, and assessment of, the marine environment, including socioeconomic aspects, initially set for 2004, has finally taken off after initial delays due to differences in opinion among the countries concerned.
The conference was divided into 12 panels, each dealing with a specific aspect of marine ecology. The full reports on the work of the panels will be made available on the internet (http://ioc.unesco.org/globalforum).
The major organizations and sponsors of the conference are: The Global Forum on Oceans, Coasts, and Island; the Global Environment Facility; UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission; UNEP Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities; Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans; U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; Gerard J. Mangone Center for Marine Policy, University of Delaware; World Ocean Network; International Coastal and Ocean Organization.
* For the full agenda of the Conference: www.globaloceans.org (see page 3 of the Conference Agenda for the international marine environment targets)
** The two organizations have created a task force on how to stem illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the high seas. Led by the UK Environment Minister, Ben Bradshaw, it is expecting to present a blueprint for action in March this year.