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One Ocean: Achieving Sustainability through Sanctuaries

Thursday, March 5, 2015 from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM (EST)
New York, NY

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On March 6, 2015, a high-level symposium called “One Ocean: Achieving Sustainability through Sanctuaries” was convened at the United Nations. This well-attended event was hosted by the Commonwealth of The Bahamas, the Italian Republic, Principality of Monaco, and the Republic of Palau in collaboration with the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, the Global Partnerships Forum, and the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science.

The symposium was moderated by Mr. Amir Dossal, who is Chairman of the Global Partnerships Forum and Co-Founder of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance. H.E. Stuart Beck, Ambassador for Oceans and Seas for Palau set the stage for the event in his opening remarks. Converging forces – the establishment of SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) in 2015, growing consensus in the scientific community, improved technologies, and a heightened sense among members states that something must be done for the ocean, make this a unique and historic time for the ocean.

The Honorable Tommy Remengesau Jr., President of Palau, gave an impassioned statement on ocean protection, reiterating his commitment to create the first national-wide marine sanctuary in Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone. President Remengesau called on nations to pass SDG 14 and get to work, “because the current path leads to a world with no fish.” He thanked Italy and Monaco for their financial commitments to support Palau in its establishment of its sanctuary, and asked developed nations to assist island states in the creation and maintenance of marine protected areas. Financial assistance is needed to offset the loss of revenue from fishing access agreements in the near term. Surveillance and monitoring using advanced technologies are needed for proper implementation of sanctuaries.

Importantly, the President noted that scientists must guide the marine sanctuary process and “Ignite a movement to help us fortify and expand existing sanctuaries, identify where new sanctuaries are required, and thus regenerate our fish stocks in the 15 year period in which the ocean goal is to be realized.” He proposed “the formal establishment of a scientific body with representatives from every region in the world under U.N auspices to set the course” and invited those scientists to use Palau, one of the most pristine areas in the world, as a laboratory.

A panel of world-renowned scientists from several nations was convened and chaired by Dr. Ellen Pikitch, Professor at Stony Brook University, Executive Director of the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, and Board Member of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance. Panel members included (in alphabetical order):

  • Dr. Pablo Borboroglu, National Research Council of Argentina, and President and Founder, Global Penguin Society.
  • Dr. Yossi Loya, Professor Emeritus, The George S. Wise Faculty of Life Sciences, Tel Aviv University.
  • Dr. Lance Morgan, President, Marine Conservation Institute
  • Professor Callum Roberts, Marine Conservation Biologist, University of York
  • Dr. Julia Xue, Chair Professor, Executive Director, KoGuan Law School, Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Dr. Pikitch opened the session by citing statistics showing that there have been steep declines observed in some key fish populations, about 90% decreases for large-bodied species, and up to 99% for some particularly high-valued tuna species. Despite such sobering information, however, awareness of the problems and potential solutions is growing. She noted that the ocean does have the capacity to heal, if we make the right interventions citing Atlantic swordfish as an example of a species that recovered due to international collaboration on a 10-year rebuilding plan which included sanctuaries to protect breeding and nursery grounds. Dr. Pikitch further noted that ocean sanctuaries are an underutilized tool. More than 99% of the ocean is open to fishing. And, whereas there are more than 11,000 ocean sanctuaries in over 135 countries, collectively, they cover only about 2.12% of the ocean surface.

The five other panel members provided a wealth of evidence for the effectiveness of ocean sanctuaries in replenishing fish populations, based on scholarly publications, fieldwork, and case studies. Dr. Callum Roberts pointed out that “big fish are the engines of reproduction,” and where areas of protection have been established and enforced, a positive response has been seen. Drs. Loya, Xue, and Borboroglu focused on marine protected area success stories—for instance, how they can protect important ecosystems and wildlife such as coral reefs and penguins, and how they are being used within densely populated coastal areas such as within China. Recent research has revealed that the value of leaving fish and other marine wildlife in the water may exceed the value of extracting them. In addition, sanctuaries can provide significant revenues and employment opportunities in the tourism sector. One contrast that emerged is the amount of the ocean that needs to be protected, versus how much is actually protected. An analysis by Dr. Roberts suggests that one-third of the oceans should be protected to achieve desired benefits, while Dr. Morgan showed that 2.12% of the ocean currently receives some level of protection.

An important outcome of this event was the strong sentiment of support expressed for passage of a stand-alone goal for the ocean (SDG 14) at the United Nations this year. In particular, representatives reaffirmed their commitment to work together to keep ocean issues high on the global agenda and to reach the target of 10% of the ocean in sanctuaries by 2020. Diplomats representing more than twenty individual nations, and the EU and AOSIS were in attendance, and those making remarks included:

  • H.E. Mr. Sebastiano Cardi, Permanent Representative of Italy to the United Nations 

  • H.E. Dr. Elliston Rahming, Permanent Representative of Bahamas to the United Nations and 
Chairman, Save Our Shark Coalition
  • H.E. Mr. Peter Thomson, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations, and former 
Chair of the Group of 77 and China 

  • H.E. Mr. Ron Prosor, Permanent Representative of Israel to the United Nations 

  • H.E. Ms. Isabelle Picco, Permanent Representative of Monaco to the United Nations
  • H.E. Mr. Ahmed Sareer, Permanent Representative of Maldives to the United Nations, and Chair of 
AOSIS
  • H.E. Mr. Per Thöresson, Permanent Representative of Sweden to the United Nations
  • H.E. Mr. Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for Environment, 
Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, introduced by H.E. Mr. Thomas Mayr-Harting, Head of the 
Delegation of the European Union to the United Nations
  • H.E. Mr. Karel Jan Gustaaf van Oosterom, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of the Netherlands to the United Nations 


Mark Newhouse, Chairman of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, pointed out that even with the implementation of marine sanctuaries, there will still be places to commercially fish in the ocean; but a larger percentage must be protected in order to avoid a world with no fish at all.

In closing, Ambassador Beck said, "What we have [with these converging forces} is an opportunity. And if we don’t take the opportunity, where will we be in 15 years?” “Scientists have known what to do, by an overwhelming majority. The political will has not been there to make it happen. Here we have the science; let’s make sure the political will is there too, to accomplish the regeneration of the oceans for the benefit of all mankind. What an extraordinary thing, that we as a U.N. can accomplish this. It involves the commons, and a responsibility of all of ours.”

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