The Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association (WIOMSA) Scientific Symposium is the largest open scientific conference focused on the marine and coastal environment in the Western Indian Ocean (WIO). It is a unique, regionwide, and global platform for dialogue, knowledge exchange, capacity development, strategic action, and cooperation. The 12th edition of the WIOMSA Scientific Symposium was held in October 2022 and was aptly themed “A New Decade of Western Indian Ocean Science”. This year the Symposium was co-convened by WIOMSA, the Sustainable Seas Trust and the Nairobi Convention and welcomed more than 800 participants over five days in Gqeberha, South Africa.
The theme was inspired by current global and regional goals, including the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development and the Decade of Ocean Restoration; and regional goals such as those expressed by the Nairobi Convention tenth Conference of Parties. Besides being co-conveners, the Nairobi Convention also participated in the Symposium by hosting several mini-symposia and special sessions around these themes: Ocean Governance, Marine Spatial Planning, Land-Sea Integration, Ocean Science-Policy-Action, and Partnerships. Nairobi Convention’s SAPPHIRE project also held its fifth Project Steering Committee (PSC) meeting.
Several sessions were convened related to this topic, notably the Special Session on ‘Ocean Governance in the WIO region’ and the Mini Symposium on ‘the Contribution of Marine Science in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) in the Western Indian Ocean to the Development of a Regional Ocean Governance Strategy’. The Ocean Governance special session focused on progress made towards the development of a regional Ocean Governance Strategy (ROGS) for the WIO and the implementation modalities and potential financing mechanisms for the ROGS. The development of the Ocean Governance Strategy for the WIO is mandated and embedded in the Decisions of the Nairobi Convention Conference of Parties (COPs) and the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), and is being led by a regional Task Force supported by the SAPPHIRE and WIOGI Projects.
Marine Spatial Plannning
Under these topics, several lively sessions and mini-symposia were convened, namely the ‘Strengthening the Blue Economy of the Western Indian Ocean Region through Marine Spatial Planning and Integration Ecosystem Services’, and the launch of an ecosystem-based marine spatial planning tool, WIO Symphony– co-developed together with the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management.
Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is gaining popularity the region due to the need to address the pressures caused on the Ocean caused by the surge of human populations and activities in recent years. MSP works across sectors and uses technical and scientific knowledge analyze and thereafter allocate the distribution and use of ocean resources.
Land-sea Integration and Addressing the Three Planetary Crises
Most ocean pollution begins on land. Water flows through the landscape, connecting people and communities as well the physical environment. What happens upstream inevitably affects life and water quality downstream, from the highlands through lowlands to the coast and sea. As such, the Nairobi Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the WIO is implementing various activities to ease the extent of biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change.
A mini-symposium titled ‘Holistic Water and Marine Management From Source to Sea: Lessons Learned From Case Studies’ discussed actions being taken by Proponents implementing projects focusing on environmental flows and marine litter management. A special session on what WIOSAP and Partners are doing to address the three planetary crises was also convened, and Implementing Partners shared their efforts to improve water quality, ecosystem management and restoration, marine spatial planning, climate change adaptation, sustainable port development, economic valuation and community livelihoods.
Evidence-based management and policy decision–making is critical to inform interventions to turn the tide. Marine scientists, researchers, and experts commendably and constantly publish papers and articles from their respective fields in science and research journals and publications. However, it remains difficult for non-experts in the field to easily understand and translate the scientific information therein, and its implications on the environment and community livelihoods. The non-experts include the public and policy and decision-makers who have powers to effect laws and policy actions affecting the marine environment and blue economies across the Western Indian Ocean (WIO).
Protecting, conserving, and managing the Western Indian Ocean region is cross-cutting between public and private sectors, institutions, governments, and communities. In this spirit, the Nairobi Convention partners with a multitude of actors in coastal and marine sectors in the WIO, and one such partnership is through the Western Indian Ocean Governance Initiative (WIOGI), implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
Following a highly participatory multi-stakeholder co-creative process, Our Blue Future (OBF) was formally launched at the October 2022 Symposium. The multi-stakeholder initiative currently comprises of 16 partners and seeks to attain an inclusive and sustainable blue economy in the WIO region. This initiative primarily seeks to enhance the involvement of all actors in development of effective regional ocean governance in support of sustainable development in the WIO.