The world is awash with conventions and agreements that are supposed to conserve our oceans but none are achieving the right results—reversing the many threats that are ruining the health of our seas with serious impacts for people and biodiversity.
The oceans and seas, covering 71% of the earth’s surface, contain rich and diverse ecosystems that provide people with a string of social and economic benefits including revenue from tourism and fisheries. But less than 1% of them are protected, compared to just over 12% of the land surface. Over-fishing, pollution, irresponsible coastal development and climate change are taking an ever-greater toll on the ocean and the wealth of life it supports.
In 2002, recognizing the scale and pace of human-induced degradation of the marine world, most countries committed to establishing networks of Marine Protected Areas by 2012. Yet progress towards this target has been painfully slow. That’s why attention is now turning to the World Heritage Convention which many believe has untapped potential to work as well for the oceans as it does for terrestrial conservation.
Of the nearly 900 existing World Heritage sites, just over 40 are protected at least partly for their marine biodiversity. In 2008 a global Plan of Action for Marine Protected Areas was launched by IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas aimed at increasing the scale and quality of ocean protection and management. A key element of that Plan is to focus on energizing the debate around the World Heritage Convention and how it applies to the ocean.
In 2009 IUCN’s World Commission in partnership with the Kingdom of Bahrain, UNESCO’s World Heritage Programme and supporting partners convened a key meeting of regional and local experts to advise on how to release greater potential from the Convention for ocean protection. A plan was developed focusing on the next steps needed. This road map, called the Bahrain Plan of Action for Marine World Heritage, outlines the steps needed in the coming years to increase formal recognition of the outstanding values that exist in our oceans and seas.
Experts are working together to outline what is needed by both international and regional communities to better manage existing World Heritage sites and accelerate the inscription of new ones. The Plan calls for a new guide (a thematic study) to help countries in making applications for recognition of marine natural values under the Convention, for increased training for countries in developing nominations for sites, and for improved data and information sharing.
“We hope the Bahrain Action Plan will play an important role in conserving biodiversity in our oceans and ensure the management and conservation of natural marine heritage for future generations,” says Dan Laffoley, well known British ocean conservationist and Marine Vice Chair of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas.
International experts met recently on the Island of Vilm in the Baltic Sea to develop the thematic study. Organised by the German Federal Agency for Nature Conservation (BfN) in cooperation with IUCN, WCPA Marine and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre, this is a critical step in opening up greater progress on recognising outstanding universal marine values.
“We are delighted to see this important step being taken. Armed with new fit-for-purpose advice this should enable countries to make more effective proposals for recognition of their outstanding areas of ocean under the World Heritage Convention,” says Tilman Jaeger, IUCN’s World Heritage Project Management Officer.
World Heritage is seen as a key element in the Marine Plan of Action of IUCN’s World Commission on Protected Areas. An area of particular concern is identifying and implementing a network of protected areas on the high seas—the areas of the oceans that lie beyond any jurisdiction. Although the marine conservation community is keen to see a significant expansion of marine protected areas, it is equally anxious to ensure that attention is not deflected from improving the management of existing ones. Protected areas are just one pillar of conservation—there is much to be done outside protected areas both in areas under national jurisdiction and beyond, for example in fisheries management, pollution control and transport safety.
For more information contact:
Tilman Jaegar, IUCN’s World Heritage Project Management Officer