I am back from a short visit to Marseille where I had the pleasure to visit the IUCN World Conservation Congress. It was great to see so much attention for the state of the oceans and to learn about ongoing and planned conservation projects. The support for the moratorium on deep sea bed mining and the call for a reform of the International Seabed Authority was one of the important outcomes.
It was also great to learn about the “Great Blue Wall” Initiative which will be an important experiment in regional integration to follow over the coming years. Most certainly regional integration is part of the answer, but we shouldn’t forget the importance of national capacity and local expertise as these initiatives unfold.
The Congress left me with two thoughts. IUCN is a world of enthusiasm and hope that indeed the oceans can be better protected. What I missed is perhaps a bit more pragmatism. ‘Blue economy’ and ‘blue finance’ – ocean science driven, new planning and innovative finance models – are ambiguous concepts. Some of the initiatives appear to be a continuation of technocratic planning models or liberal market dreams.
It seems that the question of distributive justice, how the costs, risks and revenues are distributed (blue justice!) does get too little attention. While the world most certainly needs blue economy entrepreneurs, some more caution for counter-intuitive consequence and the impact on communities would be welcome.
The congress also showed how far apart the worlds of ocean conservation and maritime security are. Those interested and in charge for maritime security meet at very different sites than the conversation community. There is little crossover or dialogue.
The gap continues to puzzle me. Isn’t it obvious that protected areas require agencies that ‘protect’ and enforce regulations? We will need marine rangers, coast guards and navies to do this job. And isn’t it obvious that the most immediate threats to marine biodiversity come from environmental crimes such as illegal fishing or deliberate pollution, or shipping accidents and oil spills as we could witness in Mauritius and Sri Lanka in the last year?
Better integrating the different ocean agendas – maritime security, blue economy, blue justice – will be one of the key challenges in the year to come. It would be great news if the next IUCN Congress or one of the several upcoming international ocean conferences would send a signal in this regards.