The “Our Ocean” conference that took place on 5-6 October in Malta marks an important milestone in progress towards better oceans protection, governance and sustainable use. World leaders, public and private actors, NGOs, foundations, research institutes and international organisations and donors from 112 countries around the world announced commitments that reached over €6 billion. These resources will be invested to strengthen the fight against marine pollution and enlarge protected areas, reinforce security of the oceans, foster blue economy initiatives and sustainable fisheries and intensify the EU efforts against climate change, in line with the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals under Agenda 2030.

The closing speech of Frans Timmermans, First Vice-President of the European Commission provides a powerful account of the conference. He highlighted in a remarkable address why it is so important to protect the ocean and how we can get there: leadership, awareness/communication, collective behavioural change, cooperation and governance.

Marine Protected Areas in focus


Marine Protected Areas were one of the important themes of the conference and their key role in the protection of our oceans and livelihood support was widely celebrated. Discussions and commitments revolved around the creation of more MPAs and the development of coherent networks of MPAs to meet international objectives, but also on fully protected areas, monitoring, enforcement, adequate economic resources, participatory sustainable management and protection of the High Sea. Participants announced the creation of new Marine Protected Areas spanning more than 2.5 million km².

It was noted that partially protected areas must be called marine managed areas; they are important to reduce pressures; but fully protected areas are essential to improve biodiversity. MedPAN participated in a special session on fully protected areas organised by the National Geographic Society where Enric Sala delivered a powerful powerpoint presentation on the subject. The Malta declaration signed by reknown scientists captures the essence of this special session.

View the video of the marine protection session during the conference:

Commitments

Over 400 commitments were announced, a number of which directly concern the Mediterranean region. The full list of the 400 commitments announced is available on line, but here is a snapshot of those that directly concern the Mediterranean region:

Croatia

  • Expansion of Jabuka/Pomo Pit Marine Protected Area. With this enlargement, MPAs cover more than 11% of marine waters under national jurisdiction.
  • 24 million over five years to establish an effective management framework for the Natura 2000 network, including the preparation of management plans for at least 90 Natura 2000 marine sites. Croatia also announced the implementation of a five-year national capacity building program, starting in 2017, to train Natura 2000/protected area managers, including managers of marine protected areas.
  • 13 million over five years for the preparation of detailed marine habitats mapping for waters under national jurisdiction, as the scientific basis for the determination of new marine protected areas in the Adriatic.
  • Set up by the end of 2018 of a national monitoring system, including monitoring of marine species and habitats, to assess the effectiveness and efficiency of species and Natura 2000 sites management and allocation of €10 million over a five year period.
  • Determination by 2020 of the most appropriate conservation areas for marine turtles and dolphins and in that regard has started research in 2017.
  • Implementation during the next 5 years of a management regime of marine resources, which will include spatial and temporal regulations within the inner and territorial waters over the area of no less than 20 percent of its territorial and inner waters.

European Union

  • Launch of a € 14.5 million investment initiative in 2017 to promote a sustainable blue economy in the European Union. Of this sum, € 3 million will go towards facilitating twinning projects in the Mediterranean Sea Basin, such as between maritime training and education institutes, businesses operating in the blue economy and local fishing communities. € 1.5 million is to be allocated to restoring marine and coastal ecosystems in the Mediterranean.
  • €1.4 million to Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO to develop international guidelines for Maritime/Marine Spatial Planning. Two MSP pilot projects will be launched in early 2018: one in the Mediterranean and another in the South Pacific. Furthermore, an International Forum for MSP ; the first workshop is to take place in spring 2018.
  • Intention to support GFCM in establishing a Fishing Restricted Area (FRA) of at least 2,700 square kilometres to protect demersal stocks in the habitat recognised as essential nursery and spawning ground for a number of marine species outside territorial waters of Italy and Croatia of the Jabuka/Pomo Pit area of the Adriatic Sea. The creation of the Jabuka/Pomo Pit FRA will be for decision at the annual session of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) on 16-19 October 2017.
  • €5.7 million in 2017 to support the work of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) in improving the sustainability of fishing resources in the Mediterranean (follow up of the Medfish4Ever Declaration)

 FAO and FAO-CGPM

  • 422,000 for the Blue Hope Project that will initially involve Algeria, Tunisia and Turkey under its Blue Growth Initiative. The project will focus on building coastal community resilience through improved technical capacity among government agencies and communities to sustainably manage their coastal resources, especially inshore fisheries, thus improving their food security and their livelihood opportunities as well as their capacity to respond to drivers of change such as climate and migration.
  • €19,559 million (USD 23 million) by 2020 to help implement requirements of SDG 14 and the 2030 Agenda. These funds will help reverse the trend of overexploitation of Mediterranean’s iconic marine species, strengthening scientific advice for management while supporting the livelihoods of coastal communities. In addition, by investing in technological advances that level the playing field (regional VMS and control system), FAO will help countries implement effective port State measures to curb Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, and support mitigation of unwanted fisheries-ecosystem interactions through bycatch and discard reduction programmes.”
  • Promoted a proposal to declare June 5th as an International Day for the Fight against IUU Fishing. The FAO conference adopted this proposal at its 40th session in July 2017. The UN General Assembly now needs to adopt this proposal.

France

  • Ban of the production of hydrocarbon on its territory by 2040’s.
  • €300,000 for Ocean and Climate Initiatives Alliance (OCIA) in February 2017
  • Impact study of €250,000 to consider establishing a low pollution emission area (Nitrogen Emission Control Area / Sulphur Emission Control Area) by ships in the Mediterranean.
  • 800,000 to support eight research projects to advance scientific understanding of ocean acidification, and its impacts on marine biodiversity (coral reefs, phytoplankton etc).

Global Environment Fund

  • €17.8 million to strengthen resilience and adaptive capacities in coastal areas vulnerable to climate change in Mozambique, Liberia, Guinea-Bissau and the Mediterranean Region.

Malta

  • €1.6 million over 3 years for the establishment of a new government body, with the remit of studying, protecting, preserving, managing and educating on the country’s rich underwater cultural heritage.
  • Launch of a Small States Centre of Excellence that will provide practical support to government administrations of small states to attain the Sustainable Development Goals under Agenda 2030.
  • Designation of 30% of its waters as Marine Protected Areas in 2018 to ensure protection of caves and reefs. As part of this objective, Malta announced it would develop management plans by 2020 for the fourteen marine protected area sites it designated in 2016 comprising roughly 3487 square kilometres, covering an area significantly larger than the country itself.
  • Commitment to introduce a beverage container refund scheme by the end of 2019 to ensure that at least 70% of the plastic bottles generated in its islands are recovered and mitigate the impact of marine litter on the ocean.

 MAVA foundation

  • €70 million commitment over the next 5 years to the conservation of marine biodiversity mainly in the Mediterranean Basin and in West Africa. €8 million will be dedicated to reduce environmental impacts of plastic pollution and oil and gas activities; €5 million to stimulate a blue economy focusing on coastal infrastructure development; €30 million to support sustainable fisheries; and €27 million to promote MPAs as a tool for protecting marine species, habitats and fish resources.

MedReAct

  • (in collaboration with Stanford University, Marche’s POLYTECHNIC University, Legambiente and Marevivo). € 366,000 to launch the Adriatic Recovery Project. Running from 2017 to 2020, the initiative will help restoring essential fish habitats in the Adriatic Sea, by promoting through GFCM the establishment of Fisheries Restricted Areas closed to bottom trawling to protect key nurseries, spawning grounds and Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems in the region.

Spain

  • Commitment to preserve the artisanal fisheries sector and its ecological benefits in marine reserves. € 150,000 will be allocated in 2018 to continue to study the effects of Climate Change in marine reserves.
  • Creation of new Marine Protected Area “Cetacean migration corridor of the Mediterranean” of 46,000 square kilometres (almost 5% of Spanish waters) in the Mediterranean Sea between the coasts of Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands. This MPA will be recognized under the Barcelona Convention. With this new MPA 13% of Spain’s marine waters will be under protection.

Union for the Mediterranean (43 countries)

  • Launch of the Virtual Knowledge Centre (VKC) on Blue Economy, as a regional networking platform on marine and maritime affairs, with a view to consolidating the Mediterranean Blue Economy community by the end of 2018.
  • Agreement to set up by February 2018 a Task Force on Environment in order to facilitate the implementation, among others, of the H2020 Initiative for a Cleaner Mediterranean, which is joining efforts of all committed stakeholders in addressing the 80 per cent of the sources of pollution of the Mediterranean Sea by the year 2020. They agreed as well to define priorities, operational modalities and a work programme for depollution and pollution prevention of the Mediterranean Sea for the post-2020 period.

WWF

  • 5 Million programme funded by a private foundation and delivered in partnership with the GFCM, and other NGOs to transform small scale fisheries in the Mediterranean. This five year programme will work with small scale fisher-people across the Mediterranean to increase capacity and develop co-management schemes. This will entail a regional level engagement with fishers, authorities, and other stakeholders, as well focused efforts in selected Small Scale Fisheries sites in Italy, Greece, Croatia, and Turkey. The project will incorporate WWF’s ongoing work in another ten fisheries in Algeria, Albania, Spain, France and Tunisia. All together, these eight countries represent more than sixty per cent of the Small Scale Fisheries sector in the Mediterranean.

 

The “Our ocean conference” is a high level yearly event started as an initiative of US Secretary of State John Kerry in 2014. The 2017 Our Ocean Conference in Malta was organised by the European Union and co-hosted by High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini and Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

Participants included Heads of State or Government and ministers, companies ranging from large industries and the traditional fisheries sector to Silicon Valley tech, NGOs and philanthropic organisations. For the first time, the Conference gathered significant commitments from the private sector, including Airbus, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, PepsiCo, Marks & Spencer, Carrefour, Royal Caribbean Cruises, AXA, Sky and others

The next “Our Ocean Conference” will take place in Indonesia in 2018 where commitments will be tracked and reported on.