Big commitments at the United Nations Ocean Conference
The Ocean Conference took place in New York at the beginning of June, a solid week of negotiations and partnerships for ocean conservation. It was a groundbreaking week of commitments, which led to the release of a strong call to action for the health of the oceans. With more than 1300 voluntary commitments made to strengthen the achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 14, the ocean conservation goal, the conference has been seen to be a turning point in efforts to make progress in marine conservation. The commitments are voluntary, but if they are put into practice effectively, they will go a long way to achieving Goal 14. Commitments made included the designation of more Marine Protected Areas, more single-use plastic bans, greater restrictions on the release of known marine pollutants and sewage, pledges to carry out more scientific research and new approaches to tackling illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. Ocean optimism was a theme that ran through the conference, particularly when talking about the issue of marine plastic pollution. It’s a big issue, but one with a tangible solution that different organisations, governments and communities can work together to achieve, and that’s a great source of hope.
Canada taking final steps to phasing out microbeads
Canada announced in June that new regulations concerning the use of microbeads, tiny plastic particles that are used in many toiletries and are highly damaging to marine life, will be coming into force from January 2018. These plastic particles are less than 5mm in size, so tiny that they can be eaten by the smallest marine organisms who often mistake them for food. Plastic also absorbs contaminants, meaning that the plastic particles can choke and poison the organisms that eat them. They’re too small to be filtered out by wastewater treatment systems, so they go down the sink and straight out to sea. So what’s great is that these new rules will mean that products containing microbeads won’t be made, imported or sold in Canada from January 1, 2018, unless they’re natural health products or non-prescription drugs. If they are, the ban will come in a bit later in July 2018.
Top fishing companies team up for positive progress worldwide
Some of the biggest fishing companies across the world have agreed to work together to improve sustainability and working conditions in the fishing industry. Although there are millions of small-scale fishers across the world, a lot of the commercial catches are actually controlled by a small number of big companies. It’s thought that about 13 companies control about 11 to 16% of the global catch, which means they have a huge ecological and socioeconomic impact across the world. This commitment comes as part of the development of a new initiative, the Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship (SeaBOS), that’s creating a working partnership between big companies from Asia, Europe and the US. Part of the voluntary commitment is to eliminate catches from illegal sources, also known as ‘black fish’. These might be fish that are caught as a result of piracy, slavery or fish that are caught without a license. The companies taking part in this initiative are also cracking down on traceability and transparency in supply chains, pledging to tackle the major issue of slavery in the fishing industry by designing a code of conduct. This initiative may be voluntary; however, the fact that these discussions are taking place and drawing attention to the large amount of power that a small number of companies holds over the health of the ocean is a key milestone in marine conservation.
Vamizi Island reefs are thriving
The Vamizi Island coral reefs off the East coast of Africa appear to be resisting the impacts of climate change due to some great management and some fortunate ecological conditions. The great management is done by the local communities, who are responsible for overseeing how the area is used and enforcing management actions that are put into place to protect it. Without this it’s likely that the reef would be long overexploited. The other factor is the helpful location of the reefs themselves. They’re in an area that receives cooler currents which helps to counteract the gradually rising ocean temperatures that are causing coral reef bleaching. The reef is also in a great place to receive extra nutrients that are brought up from the seabed by a process called upwelling.