World Oceans Day: an opportunity to showcase new, emerging opportunities

World Oceans Day was celebrated on Monday 8 June 2015. For the Caribbean Region, the ocean represents the life blood for critical economic sectors including agriculture, tourism, fisheries, and transportation. Seized on the importance of the ocean to the Region, the Caribbean Community Secretariat sought the opinion of an expert in this field on several critical issues. The following is the excerpt of an interview with Mr. Christopher Corbin, Programme Officer, Assessment and Management of Environmental Pollution (AMEP), Officer in Charge Communication, Education, Training and Awareness (CETA), the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), Caribbean Regional Coordinating Unit (Caribbean Environment Programme – CEP), Secretariat to the Cartagena Convention.

CARICOM Secretariat: Could you comment on the significance of the celebration of World Oceans Day for the Caribbean Region?

Mr. Corbin: The celebration of World Oceans Day offers an opportunity for all of us as Caribbean people to reflect on the critical importance of oceans and the Caribbean Sea to our economies and to our societies. We need to highlight the actions that we take that cause negative impacts on the Caribbean Sea and its associated coastal and marine ecosystems and the fact that these impacts are not ‘Out of Sight – Out of Mind’, but already jeopardising the provision of essential goods and services.

The Caribbean Sea has historically been the lifeblood of Caribbean peoples and continues to be the basis for our social and economic development whether it is in sectors such as Fishing, Maritime Transportation or Tourism.

World Oceans Day also offers us an opportunity to showcase new and emerging opportunities e.g. wave and tidal energy potential, international telecommunication (through submarine cables) and for making the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources an integral part of our development agenda and in so doing ensuring that measures are put in place to safeguard this resource for future generations.

CARICOM Secretariat: What are some of the most important issues the Region needs to address to secure a healthy ocean for this and future generations?

Mr. Corbin: There are some critical issues that the Region needs to address and for which we have direct control over.

POLLUTION: We must prevent, reduce and control the level of pollution entering the Caribbean Sea from both land and marine based sources. These include pollution from untreated sewage, from garbage which eventually ends up as marine litter, from agrochemical run-off – pesticides and fertilisers, from the run-off of soil from poor land-use practices and from maritime transportation including oil spills and discharge of ballast water.

HABITAT DEGRADATION: We must control the degradation of critical coastal and marine ecosystems critical to our Tourism and Fisheries Sectors including coral reefs, mangroves or wetlands and sea grass beds.

OVERFISHING: We must reduce on overfishing in particular on fish that help maintain our coral reefs – e.g. parrot fish.

INVASIVE SPECIES: We have already seen the potential devastation invasive species can cause as the Caribbean deals with the impacts of LionFish. Measures must be put in place to minimise the potential for new invasive species to enter our Region including from Ballast Water and other sources.

OFF-SHORE MINING AND EXPLORATION: As the Region seeks to take advantage of new opportunities for off-shore research and sustainable use of coastal and marine resources including deep sea mining – we must ensure that appropriate guidelines, standards and structures are in place at both national and Regional levels.

CLIMATE CHANGE: The three key issues here relate to ocean acidification, sea level rise and global warming. This also has links to coastal/land use development and disaster planning especially as it pertains to use of coastal areas for development purposes.
From a policy perspective, we must address issues such as ocean policy and governance; marine spatial planning/ocean zoning; invasive species; marine debris/port reception facilities; marine sound; and improved ocean data collection. Robust data-sets, peer-reviewed published science, risk assessments, and use of the best available technologies are essential to these efforts. If we really want to achieve a ‘Green/Blue Economy’ in the Caribbean – we need to find that delicate balance between responsible ocean use and sustained ocean health.

CARICOM Secretariat: Even as the Region joins with the rest of the World in observing World Oceans Day 2015, several Member States are grappling with seaweed influx that will impact sectors including tourism and fisheries. What level of attention has this phenomenon received? Are there any actions underway, regionally, to address it?

Mr. Corbin: This is a problem that has tended to occur every year for the last decade but based on reports across the Region has been more severe this year than in any other previous years. Many countries have reported severe challenges and cost in managing the seaweed. They have also reported negative impacts on tourism, fisheries and recreational use of beach areas. Some individual country efforts including entrepreneurial efforts to convert the seaweed have taking place but there has not been a coordinated Regional approach and/or documented list of possible response interventions. As a regional seas programme, we are in contact with other colleagues in West Africa to determine what approaches are being used in other countries and regions, and to document best practices for possible application in the Caribbean. What might be even more important is being able to determine why the problem has been so severe this year. Are there any relationships with Climate Change and sea temperatures or with pollution and for example nutrient levels?

CARICOM Secretariat: At the third International Conference on Small Island Developing State, issues pertaining to the ocean featured prominently in several discussions. Of particular interest to the Region was ocean acidification, and therein, the critical need for standardised, affordable, long-term research and monitoring capabilities on ocean acidification. Could you comment on any initiatives to:
-Raise the awareness on ocean acidification
-Enhance coastal protection and coral reef preservation

Mr. Corbin: Raise the awareness on ocean acidification: I believe that work has just started as evidenced by a recent sub-Regional workshop convened by the OECS in Saint Lucia a few weeks ago. At our own meeting of Contracting Parties to the Cartagena Convention for the Protection and Development of the Wider Caribbean Region for which UNEP CEP is the Secretariat, we received a strong mandate from the Parties including all Caribbean Governments in a Decision to: “to raise awareness, mobilise resources, including the development of new project proposals, to enable assessment and monitoring of Ocean Acidification in the Wider Caribbean Region, making the necessary linkages to the Caribbean coral reef monitoring network currently being coordinated through the SPAW subprogramme.” So while we applaud the leadership shown by the OECS, the issue of ocean acidification will not be limited to just the OECS and we need to find ways to collaborate with CARICOM and other Regional bodies so perhaps a Region-wide workshop can be held building on the OECS experience for the Caribbean as a Region. UNEP CEP has also started the development of a State of Convention Area (Caribbean Sea) Report which will help document the status of the issue including standardized approaches to monitoring and assessment. Meanwhile, there are several marine-related Regional projects that could be used to help build capacity for monitoring the impacts of ocean acidification in the region. The recently approved GEF IWEco project for Caribbean SIDS offers such an opportunity.

Enhance coastal protection and coral reef preservation: This is perhaps where significant work has taken in place in the Caribbean over the years particularly as it relates to Integrated Coastal Zone Management, Spatial Planning, Oceans Governance and a range of programmes, projects and activities by NGOs, Intergovernmental Organisations, Research and Academic Institutes, Private Sector and Governments. The real challenge here is having in place more effective mechanisms for collaboration between and across national jurisdictions and across sectors. In essence, we are talking about improving ocean governance for the Caribbean Sea at national, sub-Regional and Regional levels to enable coherence and synergies in approaches.

CARICOM Secretariat: Can you share your thoughts on the role of regional organisations such as CARCIOM, OECS Secretariat, ASC Secretariat, UNEP-CEP in ensuring that we achieve the goal of healthy Oceans, healthy Planet?

Mr. Corbin: The Caribbean Sea is one of the most complex of the Global Regional Seas with several regional and sub-regional agencies having some level of responsibility for its governance from both a land based and marine-based perspective. The challenge will be to ensure that as a Region we have a common vision as to what do we want as far as the long-term development of the Caribbean Sea and the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources. What is the current legal mandate of various regional agencies involved in oceans governance and how can we ensure that our programmes, projects and activities are working in synergy and maximising on the use of already limited financial resources available in the Region. The best efforts by a single Government, company or even a whole industry sector will not be enough to secure ocean health and productivity into the future. We must all work together.

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