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Oceans protection features prominently at IUCN Congress
Honolulu, Hawai'i

Oceans protection features prominently at IUCN Congress

The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently holding its World Conservation Congress in Hawai'i, US will this week vote on two critical motions on oceans when its assembly begins its sittings.

Island nations with the support of key scientific research think tanks and conservation agencies are supporting Motions 49 and 53 which call for a "Yes" vote for the protection of the High Seas and 30 per cent of oceans space respectively.

The quest for oceans protection has been there for sometime but has lately gathered more momentum after the latest  "State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture" survey released earlier this year by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)  indicated over-exploitation of fish stocks. Another scientific research "Effective Coverage Targets for Ocean Protection" published in the premier "Conservation Letters" journal in April this year adduced evidence supporting 30 per cent of oceans under marine protected reserves. Marine debris pollution and the risks posed by the soon to start deep sea mining are some of the key reasons cited in the push to secure more oceans space. 

These two motions are likely to pass as a week before the congress opened US President Barack Obama had set the stage when he extended Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in Hawaii's western zone making it the largest marine reserve on the earth. President Obama's bold gesture has become a reference point of most of the IUCN's deliberations currently taking place at the Hawai'i Convention Centre. Palau's President Tommy Remengesau who was one of the keynote speakers at the congress' opening ceremony had based his entire address urging participants to support the oceans protection motions.

Welcoming President Obama's action the Palau leader described it as a "good gesture" in environmental defence. President Remengesau also pleaded with the US to "join the big league" of ocean conservation champions and match Palau`s marine protection record which has seen the Pacific Island nation protecting 80 per cent of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

Environmental think tank Pew Charitable Trust has also called on the IUCN assembly to vote "Yes" when the two motions will be tabled.

President Remengesau together with Seychelles President James Michel and Grenada`s Premier Keith Mitchell have been leading the increasingly influential Global Island Partnership (GLISPA) in championing oceanic and islands interests.

Oliver Steeds the Missions Director at deep oceans exploration agency Nekton Mission has also called for more ocean protection as much of the oceans remain largely unknown. Steeds who has conducted deep oceans survey also called for increased support towards deep sea research. 

No-take marine protected reserves have boomed with marine life, protecting biodiversity and boosting ecosystems resilience. These results are the key planks strengthening the push for more oceans space defence plus the fact that 71 per cent of the earths surface is covered by the sea. Motion 53 is pleading with states "to include at least 30 per cent of each marine habitat in a network of marine protected areas with the ultimate aim of creating a fully sustainable ocean, at least 30 per cent of which has no extractive activities."

In 2010 an ambitious target christened Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 seeking to conserve at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas by 2020 was set during the UNs Convention on Biological Diversity meeting in Japan. In 2014 the World's Parks Congress meeting in Sydney, Australia recommended through the "Promise of Sydney" that governments should set aside at least 30 per cent of marine habitats in oceans protected areas. During the 2015 UN General Assembly the Aichi resolution was adopted as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in favour of the "Promise of Sydney".

Motion 49 on High Seas Protection traces its roots to the previous IUCN Congress held in Jeju, Korea where Resolution 074 "implementing conservation and sustainable management of marine biodiversity in Areas Beyond National Jurisdictions (ABNJ)" was adopted. In June 2015 the UN General Assembly through the adoption of a resolution triggered negotiations on a fresh and legally binding pact on oceans conservation and sustainable management.

Western Indian Ocean coral reefs expert David Obura notes that increased attention and involvement of thought leaders on oceans has significantly added to the impetus to conserve more ocean space.

Created in 1948 the IUCN which holds its congress after every four years  is the world's largest and diverse environmental network enjoying the membership of both governments and civil society groups. It also boasts of the support of a large pool of scientists, academics, businesses, indigenous peoples and local communities.

A key challenge of these ambitious goals however stems from lack of adequate manpower and funds to manage this shift in policy.