16.11.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Development of maritime territories and biodiversity

© WoRMS Photo Gallery / Paulay, Gustav, 2010. Clavelina moluccensis, a social ascidian, Guam

Marine biodiversity provides basic goods and ecosystem services that are crucial to human life and to the reduction of poverty. As biodiversity declines, so too does the resilience of our ecosystems, and the resilience of our global common – the world’s ocean, which is essential to human life.

Brest metropole océane, located on the tip of Brittany, in France, has become an active ambassador for marine biodiversity. Brest organized an International meeting on marine and coastal biodiversity as a contribution to the United Nations Decade for Biodiversity (2011-2020), with a focus on the interactions between the development of marine territories and biodiversity.

Elected representatives and technicians of local authorities, representatives of international organizations, managers of protected areas, representatives of NGOs and associations, scientists and experts from maritime territories around the world will participate and share their experience and tools. The Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (UNESCO/IOC) presented the tools, conventions and projects currently used by IOC for the management and protection of marine and coastal biodiversity during the conference.

About 226,000 marine species have been identified and described so far. These are but a small portion of the total: researchers estimate that the ocean may be home to 700,000 marine species, and likely not more than a million, according to a study published last week. Much remains to be discovered and further research is needed, and yet we may have overstepped a boundary in terms of biodiversity loss and are dangerously close to an unsafe environmental tipping point.

The international community’s commitment to sustainable development and the conservation of biodiversity is defined in the Convention on Biological Diversity (1993), which put forward concrete targets, such as the protection of 10% of the ocean by 2020. Other conventions of note are the Ramsar Convention (1971) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (1975). Global initiatives and projects at all scales have been created to implement these conventions and reach their targets.

The United Nations has embarked on a regular process for global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment, including socioeconomic aspects: the World Ocean Assessment (WOA). The Ocean Biogeographic Information System (OBIS) is an open, shared online database and tool on the biodiversity, geographic distribution and abundance of marine life, coordinated by IOC. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) is proposed as a mechanism to build on these various processes, and strengthen the science-policy interface relating to biodiversity and ecosystem services. IPBES is an interface between the scientific community and policy makers that aims to build capacity for and strengthen the use of science in policy making.

Several tools encourage cooperation between the local and global scientific community, policy makers and the public to better manage and protect coastal and marine biodiversity. For example, Marine Protected Areas provide an effective mechanism to combine long term conservation of marine resources with economic development and food security. For these to be effective, they must count with the full support of all stakeholders. The Man and the Biosphere (MAB) programme’s Biosphere Reserve adopt an approach of promoting sustainable development based on the local community’s efforts and sound science, a combination that has been effective to apply innovative approaches to sustainable development. Together, IOC and MAB have developed a guide for Marine Spatial Planning, a step by step management approach for marine regions.

We are able to better understand the complex processes that link us to the ocean, its health and biodiversity each day. There is a growing awareness of the importance of biodiversity for human well-being, and we have tools to facilitate international cooperation, share information, increase the knowledge base and improve management and policy-making. We need to use and promote these tools, continue to improve science-based policies for sustainable development and involve the public to change our behaviour and our relationship with the ocean for the benefit of all – ocean and people.

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