To help the ocean globally, we need a local approach
* All opinions expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Coastal ecosystems are under pressure – and as COVID-19 strains livelihoods, they are more essential than ever
Antha Williams heads the environmental program for Bloomberg Philanthropies. Spurgeon Miller is the mayor of the municipality of Guanaja, Honduras. Dr Steve Box is the Managing Director of Rare’s Fish Forever’s Coastal Fisheries Restoration Program.
When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, unprecedented numbers of people across the world migrated from urban to rural areas. In developed countries, people have left cities to work in less populated areas. But in developing countries, the massive collapse of employment in sectors like construction and tourism has led people to leave cities to take refuge in the economic safety net of their rural communities.
In coastal communities, villages have multiplied with the return of family members, small-scale fishing and peasant agriculture have become lifesavers for millions of people.
But the coastal waters supporting these fisheries were already under enormous pressure. Climate change is wreaking havoc on marine ecosystems, intensifying storms and raising sea levels. Coastal pollution contaminates the water and suffocates fragile habitats. And overfishing, the most pressing threat, is reducing fish populations and threatening entire ecosystems.
An ocean in distress has a direct impact on the two hundred million people worldwide whose livelihoods depend on coastal fishing, which includes the thin strip of ocean 12 km from the shore, home to most of the ocean’s biodiversity. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, about one in five people in the world depend on fish as an important source of animal protein.
Local governments and their leaders find themselves on the front lines of a complex recovery challenge: meeting the immediate needs of an enlarged population for food and income while trying to conserve resources and protect the environment from intensification. degradation.
Local leaders are key to solving this problem. They are central decision-makers for the access, use, management and conservation of local resources. While they can be complicit in making sacrifices to achieve urgent and short-sighted goals, they can also advocate for locally-driven solutions that seek to balance short-term and long-term needs. In addition, they recognize that protecting the environment and building a strong economy go hand in hand.
We need this balanced perspective. On World Oceans Day, we are launching the first global network of mayors and local government leaders committed to promoting and defending sustainable food production based on effective protection. This network, called Coastal 500, aims to unite 500 mayors and local government leaders through a uniform commitment to ensure food security and well-being today while preserving the future prosperity of their communities.
The commitment of a participant is essential for the Coastal 500. It creates a powerful and global connection between local leaders, whether they are mayors of the Philippines or Honduras or a local administrator in Mozambique, and spurs collective action to support several objectives:
- Promote responsible fishing behavior
- Advocacy for the rights of local fishermen to access local waters
- Encourage participation in fisheries management
- Approval of non-harvest marine reserves
- Invest in community fisheries management
- Sharing lessons and experiences with other local leaders around the world
We are off to a promising start. Around 100 coastal mayors, representing 1.2 million members of coastal communities, have already committed to explicitly link COVID recovery plans and available funding to the protection of natural resources and to ensuring effective community co-management of local fisheries. These first 100 commitments will create momentum that will inspire the growth of the network to 500 mayors, representing thousands of communities and millions of people.
With coordinated support, this network can easily share knowledge and lessons between governments and communities, collectively accelerating change despite unprecedented complexity, just as international networks like C40, Climate Mayors and the Global Covenant of Mayors have brought together local champions to take bold climate action. and amplify a global message of recovery and hope.
This movement also has an upstream impact. Local leaders take science-based programmatic action, secure political commitments, and mobilize financial allocations for coastal fisheries. As seen in the Philippines and Indonesia, some countries are integrating community-based fisheries management into their national development plans to protect the ocean, ensure food security, promote economic growth, fight climate change, end poverty and achieve gender equality.
But more needs to be done. Global investment in our ocean and coastal communities is woefully insufficient. According to the United Nations, achieving SDG 14 – the sustainable development goal for life underwater – will require around $ 175 billion annually. But right now, only $ 25.5 billion is spent each year.
On World Oceans Day, nations, development organizations and philanthropy can commit to solving this problem – they can commit to supporting local leaders working to change the world’s coastal communities and ensure that they are at the heart of the blue recovery.