Presenting at the UN Asia Pacific Day for the Ocean

 In Conservation, Organisational, UN

When someone tells you: “we’re running a little late so everyone will have just 8 minutes,” that could be a good thing. Not many people really enjoy a spotlight and sometimes it can be nerve-racking, delivering presentations to people who really do know their stuff. It can be nice, just a quick talk, get it done first and relax. It can also be quite horrifying, knowing that you will be up against a time limit. Knowing that with every word you get out you are one step closer to being cut off. Where do you spend the time? The change in MPA effectiveness indicators overtime? Are the traditional indicators even relevant? Is it spent on the theories around why MPAs are ineffective? Or better on the methodologies being used to study effectiveness? Is that yellow laminated paper really telling me I have one minute left? Relief? Maybe.

The opening talks at Asia Pacific Day for the Ocean
Looking back I can’t really remember, there was certainly quite a stream of words, but then the presentation was complete, the information out there. MPAs, can we just throw them anywhere and walk away? Definitely not. One minute for questions. Of course it’s coming from the moderator, the man who set up the conference, the guy that probably knows the answer to the question he’s about to ask. What do I think the problem with the MPAs really is? Site selection, communication, monitoring and evaluation, goal-oriented management, land-rights? Who I am kidding, it’s all of the above.

The Asia Pacific Day for the Ocean, a one day all-go event. Fisheries, mangroves, coral reefs. Private industry, government agencies, NGOs. Small groups, UN conference rooms, workshops and collaboration. Sustainable Development Goal 14, Life Underwater, Communities for Ocean Action.
The day provided the reason and the location for people, companies, government departments, and NGOs engaged in coral reef, mangrove, fisheries, and ocean conservation to come together and talk about progress, and the lack thereof, in Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Underwater. Life Underwater is the United Nations’ goal that outlines the important issues that need to be focused on in the journey toward protecting the ocean and the coastline. A rather ambitious goal, and, unfortunately, it has not been as successful as other goals, with the ocean suffering greatly over the past decade from climate change, pollution, overfishing, plastic waste and a multitude of other stresses.

At the conference we spoke of (amongst many):

  • The effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas;
  • Research into ocean acidification;
  • Gender roles in small-scale fisheries;
  • The extent and impact of dynamite fisheries;
  • Mangrove reforestation and economics.

And it became clear that actions are certainly being made in all of these areas, perhaps not well coordinated as a group of projects, and perhaps not quite yet at the necessary scale, but certainly present, and certainly impactful. But why has this progress, progress made in the commercial, conservation, government, and religious arenas, not been translated into progress toward to goal: Life Underwater?

This I believe was the central purpose of the Day for the Ocean Conference, not addressing the lack of success, but instead trying to create a centre for recording the progress being made in all of these areas. Highlighting successes, reporting failures, making sure that we all have a source of information to add to and a strong and supportive network to rely on to determine where we are, and how we get to where we want to go: a healthier, more natural, and more protected ocean.

Life Below Water: solving issues in the degradation of the ocean and its resources, Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, is reportedly doing quite poorly. While reducing poverty is soaring, 800,000,000 in China raised up, no longer struggling to feed themselves, where have we gotten with safeguarding the global resource of the ocean? According to the reports, we have not gone very far at all. Perhaps even further away than we were 10 years ago.

single action is going to solve the problem. Yet if everyone focusses on a different angle, how can we coordinate, how can we measure what works?

Life Below Water tries to outline how complicated the problem is, how many different ways humans interact with the ocean, where the biggest problems are. That’s why its 10 points are quite broad, covering everything from the ways we may be polluting the ocean right through to the tax breaks and handouts we are giving to fishermen. In a way I guess it’s nice that the goal kind of reflects the ocean ecosystem: with millions of possible courses of action, and no single action is going to solve the problem.

This seems to be the defining feature of Life Below Water strife: how can we make progress when we are not really sure how to measure that progress as a collective? And, also not entirely convinced on which actions are most effective? It is relatively easy to say: “well, just stop polluting, of course.” But how exactly can we be sure that the problem is solved? There will still be pollutants entering the ocean from the soil, long-lasting traces of our mining and agricultural activities, and so to be really sure we will have to monitor changes very closely for a very long time.

These things matter in a world where everything has to be, and very well should be, proven. That approaches can be documented and shown to work so that they can be scaled up. That we are collectively adopting the strategies that will take us to the goal that we all share: an ocean ecosystem that we can rely on, and that can rely on us. But this means that we need make ensure that we are investing in what works, and reporting on what does not, that we have the integrity to accept failures and adapt, and that funding bodies play their role in supporting projects for long enough to ensure success, or identify why certain approaches have not worked.

It is in this exact space that the UN Communities of Ocean Action becomes so valuable. Every day we all go to work and do our thing, whether that be evaluating the success of MPAs, restoring degraded forests, working alongside fishermen, we are all working in our own niches. It’s about time that those niches moved a little closer together. We are all working in the same space, the ocean is at the centre of all of this. We need to start talking a lot more, discussing exactly what it is that we are trying to achieve, aligning our approaches, moving those milestones into something resembling a straight line, a defined and shared goal.

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