The ocean has a profound impact on human life. Directly or indirectly, oceans feed us, keep us healthy, provide us with jobs, and serve as the engine for much of our economy.
The governance of a resource that so greatly benefits humankind is therefore a critical task. Millions of people–from fishermen to port operators to beachgoers, to name a few– have a stake in how the Western Indian Ocean (WIO) is governed. But precisely because there are so many kinds of ‘users’ of the WIO, current ocean governance policies are often segmented sector by sector and not harmonized with one another. A policy on fishing could contradict a policy on climate change, for example, leading to weaker protection and management of the ocean. Or perhaps one of the biggest users of the ocean, the private sector – which includes tourism operators, shipping and transport companies, fishers, and more – have been left out of policymaking and sustainability initiatives altogether.
Meanwhile, even though our oceans feed and employ us, produce half of the oxygen on earth, help regulate our climate, and are rich with ingredients for life-saving medicines, they are being degraded by human activities. We dump over 8 million tons of litter into the ocean every year. 30% of fisheries are overexploited, while illegal fishing practices costs the world US$23 billion a year. 80% of wastewater is discharged without treatment; nutrient pollution is creating dead zones, and climate change is threatening some of the world’s most critical habitats, like coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses.
It is clear, then, that truly achieving the objective of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’ requires a much stronger ocean governance framework at the national, regional, and global levels.
For this reason, the Nairobi Convention, in executing its SAPPHIRE project, partnered with the International Ocean Institute – Southern Africa (IOI-SA) to enable around 20 mid-career government officials, educators, researchers, and civil society members to take IOI-SA’s four-week training on ocean governance, adapted to the context of the WIO. From 30 August – 24 September, participants from across the WIO region received a deep-dive into the different frameworks and tools on ocean governance, as well as opportunities – like the blue economy, marine renewable energy, or marine spatial planning – and threats – such as climate change, invasive species, or plastic pollution.
The training underscored the benefits of ocean governance and harmonizing ocean policies to promote a shared, integrated, and common approach to ocean management. Such an approach could help address some of the threats listed above.
Elissa Lalande, a trainee from Seychelles who works as a Senior Policy Analyst and Negotiator on climate change, noted that climate change was seen as a cross-cutting issue in Seychelles, with increasing recognition of its impact on the ocean. She added that the training would help her “teach other stakeholders outside the government about ocean governance and its importance to the Seychelles” domestically, while at the international level, the training would help her “educate more people about the Ocean-Climate nexus at the forums, meetings, and workshops” that she attends.
One trainee, Stephanie Wangare (a Fisheries Officer with the Kenya Fisheries Service), described the habitat destruction, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (IUU), and coastal shore encroachment by infrastructure development projects as pressing reasons for why improved ocean governance would be welcome. As she noted, “There is a need for a structure for all sectors involved in ocean governance, so that when governance and development projects are being created, the health and sustainability of our oceans is foremost on the agenda.” The ocean governance training, she stated – particularly the knowledge gained on biodiversity beyond national jurisdiction – would help her contribute to her organization’s mandate to conserve and manage the fisheries sector.
Jean Aime Zafimahatradraibe, another trainee from the Institute Halieutique et des Sciences Marines of Madagascar studying marine protected areas (MPAs), stressed the need for inclusive ocean governance in the management of MPAs. Local governance groups in MPAs, he noted, have “low power” in the decision-making process, leading to conflicts between these communities and other users of marine resources. Improved, participatory ocean governance would not only improve the effectiveness of these local governance groups, he added, but also ensure that the “ecological productivity” of ocean resources is maintained.
Jose Ariscado, a trainee from Mozambique’s Ministry of Sea, Inland Waters, and Fisheries, noted how critical ocean governance is now and in the future, when “there is a rate of species extinction never before seen in human history.” He stated that the training, particularly its modules on international law, would help him at the Ministry to “facilitate the development and implementation of national legal frameworks…with a view to sustaining the blue economy, including by mobilizing public and private financial resources for sustainable development.”
Indeed, the Nairobi Convention hopes that trainings like this, which bring an increased awareness and appreciation of ocean governance tools and legal frameworks, will help create a core group of experts on ocean governance in the WIO region. These experts can then contribute to the development of a regional ocean governance strategy leading to a healthier, more productive, and sustainable Western Indian Ocean.