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Focus 2018: A sustainable and innovative approach to protect the Ocean

30 May 2018 12:54 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

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Protecting the environment is a responsibility vested upon everyone’s shoulders. As natural resources including wildlife are facing threats of extinction the need for conservation is greatly felt. In such a backdrop it is important to protect what is around us, by saving a tree or two or disposing garbage in a responsible manner in order to make sure that we at least receive the oxygen we breathe. The ocean is a valuable resource that all Sri Lankans have and protecting it is a major need of the hour.   

  • The ocean is a valuable resource that all Sri Lankans have and protecting it is a major need of the hour  
  • Coastal wealth offers enormous protection for the blue economic growth of nations
  • Livelihoods of up to 12% of the world’s population come from the ocean

In an attempt to spearhead this herculean task and promote the concept of Blue Economy the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives and its partners - Biodiversity Sri Lanka, MIND, IUCN, the French Development Agency, the Bandaranaike Centre for International Studies and the Alliance Française de Kotte in Colombo - organized a high level seminar to raise awareness followed by the signing of a Declaration of Intent between the two countries. During this seminar a document of Expression of Interest was also signed among several companies in the private sector to support a project on coastal management and Blue Economy in the region of Vakarai-Batticaloa.   

Marine resources are assets to sustainable economic development: Ambassador 
In his opening remarks, Ambassador of France to Sri Lanka and Maldives Jean Marin-Schuh said that this year’s focus will be on oceans protection and blue economy. “Everybody knows that oceans are more polluted in the world today. Plastic, litter and water pollution are a global challenge that every country faces. Sri Lanka being an island nation is particularly exposed to these threats. It is home to an exceptional biodiversity and resources with challenges in terms of coastal development. France has a lot to share with Sri Lanka in terms of blue economy.

Having the second largest exclusive economic zone in the world we believe that marine resources are assets to sustainable economic development. France supports environmental protection and climate change issues. Hence we are glad to cooperate with Sri Lanka on oceans management and blue economy. Therefore the French Development Agency is particularly active in Sri Lanka in order to promote sustainable development and blue economy. France can also share knowledge and expertise in terms of academic research. Hence, we will sign a bilateral Declaration of Intent. The objective of Focus 2018 is to create an understanding among all stakeholders to trust and support a complete conservation project. This project is the achievement of a remarkable collaboration between the private and public sectors.”  

Over 60% of the high seas are common property and are shared by everyone: Prof. Munasinghe
In his comments Vice Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, co-laureate of the Nobel Prize Prof. Mohan Munasinghe said that the specific role here is to lead the effort in the applied research area in relation to valuation of benefits that ocean resources provide. “Thereafter we can formulate practical policies to manage those resources. Let’s start by thinking about how life originated from the ocean which covers 2/3rds of the land surface. The ocean supported human life and ultimately shaped economic development. Coastal wealth offers enormous protection for the blue economic growth of nations. Livelihoods of up to 12% of the world’s population come from the ocean. Seafood accounts for USD 190 billion worth revenues marine and coastal tourism generates revenue of USD 161 billion. Yet human activities including over-fishing, pollution and climate change are critically harming these resources.

We must do more to protect and manage the ocean if we are to sustain even the current levels of ocean-based economic productions. We also can generate more jobs for billions of people. However over 60% of the high seas are common property and are shared by everyone. Free access to ocean resources and services put strong pressure on marine ecosystems greatly from over-fishing, reckless resource traction and other issues. Sustainable ocean management however will be a challenge as it will take time to coordinate the activities of over 190 countries. With a 1600 km coastline, Sri Lanka is surrounded by the sea while 55% of the population depends on these coastal resources. But the marine environment and resources contribute to less than 2% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) although our territorial limits in the ocean cover eight times the land resources. The blue-green economy concept applied to our coastal zones seeks to promote economic growth, social inclusion and livelihoods while ensuring environmental sustainability. We have to harness highly productive ocean resources better. However there are major issues in the policy, regulatory and environmental fronts.”  

Speaking further Prof. Munasinghe said that the recent report of the Presidential Expert Committee on Sustainable Sri Lanka 2030 which is about to be released, highlights the development of the marine sector. “In the report we have focused on marine pollution, plastics, agricultural and industrial run-off, and human waste and so on. Things such as ocean acidification due to the climate, marine debris, marine coastal resource degradation such as coral reefs and mangroves which are deteriorating, fish-catch dwindling near the shore and sustainable fishing methods need to be addressed. We also have huge problems with sustainable  utilization and governance and this is where the resources come into play.

We need to prioritise which of these ocean resources are more important, who uses them and then value these resources both in monetary and biological terms and then we can identify the kinds of policies and measures that we can recommend to government, to business and other communities to manage these resources. The research element is very important and the Focus 2018 project correctly identifies the stretch of coastline from Vakarai to Batticaloa as a pilot project and support a concerted effort to improve resource management and conservation. On the scientific side we feel that it is important to understand the inter-linkages among the various ecosystems, services and the social and economic dynamics in the utilization of those resources. The public, civil and private sectors should be part of the project to enable a broader understanding of the scientific knowledge, to have greater ownership of the results and finally to implement practical policies that will help manage these resources.”  

More research needs to evaluate Vakarai coastal ecosystem: Nishan Perera
Airing his views regarding this topic, marine biologist and co-founder of Blue Resources Trust said that it was important to develop an initial concept of specific activity or a project which we wanted to take away beyond a policy framework. 

“One attempt was to integrate the private sector with government policies. We also looked at building partnerships among private sector companies and we wanted to focus on a specific coastal area. There are problems around the Sri Lankan coastal areas but we also want to try and focus on one specific area so that we could make an impact there and see some tangible results. We then developed a model that is both sustainable and can be replicated in other parts of the country. Initially we created a dialogue among academia, non-governmental agencies and also had a couple of meetings and workshops. We identified key policy areas and gaps in conservation issues we can address, then we evaluated several coastal areas around Sri Lanka based on their conservation value and what are the needs and interventions that we could bring in there. Thereafter we chose one coastal stretch and identified the main objectives we wanted to implement. The area we chose was Vakarai depending on the feedback of the participants. It is a diverse coastal area with a lot of coastal ecosystems and compared to other parts of the country it has healthy ecosystems.

Therefore we thought it’s important to bring in interventions and better management before things got worse. They have extensive lagoons, coral reefs, estuaries, mangrove habitats and the like. The Kayankerni coral reef is identified as one of the most resilient reefs to climate change impact. It has now been declared as a marine sanctuary by the Department of Wildlife including several other lagoons such as Batticaloa and Valachchenai. Currently there are several activities going on in the area as well. There are national programmes, private sector and NGO interventions going on in the area. We identified key stakeholders and activities taking place in the area and tried to see how we could improve it and identify certain gaps. The objective that we identified together with the other partners was to establish a reliable research database so that we could have more applied research in the area. More focus needs to be diverted towards social, environmental, habitat and species-based research in order evaluate the ecosystem. It is also important to develop livelihoods of coastal communities so that they could benefit and gather more awareness through that process.”  

Pics by DamithWickramasinghe

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