How to protect ocean life in 2,885 days (or less)
Countries have committed to protecting at least 30 percent of the world’s land and sea habitats by 2030. But how? At an event co-hosted by the Global Environment Facility, World Resources Institute, and High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People during IMPAC5 in Vancouver, people leading, planning, and funding marine protected areas around the world shared ideas about how to make this happen with less than seven years on the clock.
The “30x30” goal was in the spotlight throughout the 5th International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC5) in Vancouver, where Indigenous leaders, scientists, policy makers, and conservation experts gathered to take a stand for a global ocean under threat.
Commitments by countries around the world to protect at least 30 percent of the world’s terrestrial and marine habitats by 2030 have elevated the potential and special role of marine protected areas, sanctuaries, and other effective area-based conservation measures that can help replenish fish stocks and restore depleted ecosystems.
At a side event co-hosted by the Global Environment Facility, World Resources Institute, and High Ambition Coalition for Nature and People, a path to achieving the 30x30 goal in the ocean came into sharper focus.
More than 80 marine protected area experts, scientists, practitioners, Indigenous and coastal community members, representatives of women’s organizations and civil society, and financiers packed into a small meeting room to brainstorm about how to create, manage, grow, and pay for marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, drawing from experiences from the Philippines, Palau, Hawaii, Costa Rica, the Mediterranean, and elsewhere.
“Implementation is the key,” said Eugenia Arguedas Montezuma of Costa Rica’s Ministry of Environment and Energy, presenting the High Ambition Coalition’s plans to match countries’ needs with both funding and technical assistance as they seek to expand their marine protected areas. “To turn the 30x30 goal into action, we need to prioritize capacity building as well as continued political engagement and leadership.”'
Kristian Teleki of the World Resources Institute stressed the broad positive effects that the marine protected areas established to date have played to support local economies and cultures, as well as marine ecosystems.
“This is not just an investment in biodiversity. It is in an investment in people, in the climate, in food, and much more,” he said, also noting the time urgency to get new and larger protected areas in motion – counting with 2,885 days left to meet the 2030 goal.
Farah Chaudry of the United Kingdom’s Department of Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs noted the importance of translating the high ambition and political will demonstrated by governments around the world into on-the-ground, on-the-sea action, with both technical support and funding for those setting up, managing, and growing marine protected areas.
Meaningful partnerships with Indigenous Peoples, local communities, and non-governmental organizations are also critically important to inform and ensure the viability of marine conservation projects, said Matt Rand of The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Blue Nature Alliance.
The Blue Nature Alliance, a partnership with the GEF, Conservation International, The Pew Charitable Trusts, Minderoo Foundation, and Rob & Melani Walton Foundation, is now supporting initiatives in 26 countries, helping to create or improve the management of 12 million square kilometers of ocean. It aims to reach 18 million square kilometers—or 5 percent of the world’s ocean—to help advance the global 30x30 effort.
In Niue, for instance, the Blue Nature Alliance has supported efforts to protect 126,000 miles of ocean to date, as well as a new strategy about how to fund future protected area expansion. “Sustainable finance will be key to support this,” Rand said.
These efforts are moving in the right direction, but need to be scaled up dramatically if the 30x30 goal are to be met, several participants stressed.
Achieving the needed scale will require working across international borders and industrial sectors, and close collaboration with coastal, island, and fishing communities to be successful.
The GEF-funded Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action (ATSEA) project is an example of transboundary work for effective marine resources management, built up over years of working to address unsustainable fisheries, pollution, marine biodiversity loss, and climate change impacts in Australia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Timor-Leste, spanning a large area of the North Australian Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem that connects the Pacific and Indian Oceans with the Coral Triangle. The project is implemented by the UN Development Program and executed by PEMSEA.
“There are many actors in our collaborations, including national and sub-national governments, civil society, academia, and the private sector,” shared Handoko Adi Susanto, Regional Project Manager of ATSEA-2. “The blue economy is also one of our key considerations. When we work on marine protected area network designs, we look at how we can achieve a sustainable blue economy and what training and capacity-building is needed, including with regard to gender equality,” he said.
Solomon Pili Kaho’ohalahala, Kupa'āina o Lāna'i, Kuā'āina, Ulu 'Āuamo (KUA), stressed the inextricable relationship between ecological connectivity and cultural connectivity, and the need to include traditional and Indigenous knowledge into the heart of efforts to achieve the 30x30 goal.
“Conversations need to be redirected. You need to give the Indigenous perspective some validity in how they view things, and allow for them to be part of these conversations when you want to have success to create a better place,” he said.
Echoing a sentiment that ran through the IMPAC5 discussions, Kaho’ohalahala cautioned that the goal of protecting 30 percent of the ocean was far from sufficient. “It is a benchmark. But I think from our view the goal always been about 100 percent,” he said. “So let’s not lose sight of the fact that 30x30 is not necessarily the goal. It is not the end goal but it will help.”
“We need to have to have a 100 percent effective management,” agreed Rand.
The GEF is the world’s largest multi-donor trust fund for the environment, with decades of experience working to support national and regional efforts to protect and sustainably manage the ocean and transboundary waterways, and to ensure viable long-term management of critical sites.
This has included $300 million over the past four years to support nearly 50 marine protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. Marine protected areas will also be a priority in the GEF’s current four-year funding period, with plans to support another 100 million hectares of ocean covering the most important areas for the world’s biodiversity. The GEF’s new four-year strategy embraces the 30x30 goal that will contribute to the vision of “healthy planet, healthy people.”
“We know from experience that well-designed, well-managed marine protected areas can make a world of difference, with positives for local communities, regional fisheries, and the health of the ocean,” said Andrew Hume, Focal Area Coordinator of the GEF’s International Waters portfolio.
“Sharing lessons from our work around the world is going to be critical as countries look to create, expand, and connect marine protected areas. There is enormous potential here and the GEF is ready to help turn goals into reality on the road to 2030.”