The Nairobi Convention for the Protection, Management, and Development of the Coastal and Marine Environment of the Eastern Africa region held its 10th Conference of Parties from 23-25 November 2021, where states agreed on bold new action to maintain a healthy and prosperous Western Indian Ocean region.
Hosted by Madagascar, the 10th Conference of Parties (COP10) brought together Comoros, Kenya, France, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa, and Tanzania – the ten signatories to the Nairobi Convention – to decide on major priorities and strategies for how they will work to protect, develop, and manage the Western Indian Ocean over the next two years.
COP10 could not have come at a more crucial time in the fight to preserve and protect our oceans. As noted during the recent COP26 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, human activity has led to dramatic changes in the ocean’s ability to provide oxygen, sustain life, and provide food and employment. Meanwhile, plastic marine pollution is projected to more than double by 2030, and marine species are “disappearing from their habitats at twice the rate of those on land.”
At the same time, COP10 comes at a time when Nairobi Convention states are beginning to tap into the vast potential of the Western Indian Ocean to transform economies and livelihoods. Harnessing this potential in a sustainable, inclusive manner – as many countries are doing under Blue Economy initiatives – can help ensure that the Western Indian Ocean’s resources are profitable for and enjoyed by generations to come.
At COP10, states first received an update from the Nairobi Convention Secretariat on how it has implemented decisions from the last Conference of Parties (held in August 2018). Highlights included the finalization of a draft Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Protocol, which if adopted and ratified will assist states – together with coastal communities – to maximize sustainable development opportunities that are protective of coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. Other notable developments since 2018 include the creation of a Marine Spatial Planning strategy for the region, the development of a Regional Action Plan on Marine Litter, the development of a Marine Protected Areas Outlook outlining recommendations to achieve post-2020 Global Biodiversity Goals, and more. (For a full report on progress made since the last Conference of Parties, click here.)
COP Decision 1
States then turned their focus to the future, issuing decisions on the Nairobi Convention’s proposed Programme of Work for 2022-2024, as well as their regional priorities for ocean protection and management. The new Nairobi Convention Work Programme for 2022-2024, as outlined in Decision 1, will have four priority areas: 1) management and operational support to Contracting Parties in implementing COP10 decisions and developing ocean financing and governance approaches; 2) assessment and conservation of critical habitats and endangered species; 3) coordination and legal aspects; and information and awareness.
COP Decisions 2-4
Decisions 2-4 focused on the existing and new legal structures available under the Convention to protect and develop the Western Indian Ocean, with Decision 2 urged states to ratify, accede, and/or strengthen their implementation of the Amended Nairobi Convention and the Protocol for the Protection of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Western Indian Ocean from Land-based Sources and Activities. Decision 3, for its part, asked the Secretariat to convene a Conference of Plenipotentiaries to adopt and sign the ICZM protocol mentioned above. In Decision 4, Contracting Parties established an ad-hoc legal and technical working group to review of the Flora and Fauna Protocol for negotiation and adoption – a review designed to make it more effective at conserving biodiversity, managing marine and coastal ecosystems, and addressing current and emerging threats.
COP Decisions 5-11
Equally important as the review and implementation of these protocols are strong ocean governance strategies, frameworks, and tools, which formed the theme of Decisions 5-11. Under Decision 5, Contracting Parties requested the secretariat to create an ocean governance strategy, one that would contribute to the wider African strategy.
Meanwhile, with the impacts of the 2020 Wakashio oil spill of the coast of Mauritius still fresh, under Decision 6 Contracting Parties requested the Secretariat to develop a regional action plan to support the review of national oil spill contingency plans, identify capacity gaps in oil spill preparedness and response, and prepare oil spill sensitivity maps.
In recognition of the impact that climate change is wreaking on the ocean, under Decision 7 Contracting Parties requested the Secretariat to also develop a regional action plan that would monitor, mitigate, and minimize ocean acidification. Understanding the extent of and addressing the problem would not only help protect marine life vulnerable to ocean acidification – but also the many jobs dependent on this marine life.
Under Decision 8, the COP requested the Secretariat to finalize the preparation of a marine spatial planning (MSP) strategy. They further urged states to mainstream MSP into their national development planning processes and to establish a network of marine protected areas and/or other effective conservation measures. Such measures can bring significant economic, social, and environmental benefits to a country – such as increasing food security by preventing the overexploitation of fish, creating and safeguarding jobs in the tourism/fisheries sectors, and protecting species and habitats.
Decision 9 asked the secretariat to develop a regional coastal and marine ecosystem indicator monitoring framework, one that would allow states to assess the state of their environment. Decision 10 requested the Secretariat to establish a Regional Task Force on Water Quality. The task force will help develop a water quality monitoring framework and guidelines for the region. It will further assist states to prevent the loss of ecosystem services, economic opportunities, and health impacts caused by poorly managed wastewater and marine litter. Decision 11, finally, requested the Secretariat to continue to organize regional and national science-policy dialogues to support decision-making for improved ocean governance.
COP Decisions 12-13
Under Decision 12, Contracting Parties urged the Secretariat to not only support the implementation of ongoing projects and prepare follow-up or new projects, but also to form new partnerships to help their implementation. This includes the development of a regional mangrove action plan through the Western Indian Ocean Regional Mangrove Network, which could, for example, outline priority needs for mangrove restoration, channel investments into restoration, and mainstream mangroves into national development planning.
Finally, under Decision 13, Contracting Parties requested the Secretariat to provide yearly contribution invoices and report on the status and use of the East Africa Trust Fund. Contracting Parties were also urged to support the Secretariat to mobilize resources for the implementation of projects.
As noted by Jacquis Rasoanaina, Focal Point of Madagascar to the Nairobi Convention, whose government was elected as incoming Bureau Chair at COP10, “these COP decisions will help provide the political will and resources we need to maintain a healthy Western Indian Ocean – an ocean that can continue to be a sustainable, prosperous resource for our future.”
To read the COP decisions in full, click here.