Protecting the Seas for Sustainable Ocean-Based Economies

The United Nations has concluded the first-ever global Ocean Conference from 5 – 9 June 2017 by highlighting the world leaders’ commitment to sustainable ocean-based economies and poverty eradication. The summit was galvanized to support political commitments for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water. More than 6000 participants representing state agencies, environmental activists, corporations, artists, and philanthropists took part in the meeting. The forum wrapped up with the adoption of a 14-point Call for Action which briefly outlines the strategies and priorities of the state agencies in the sustainable governance of blue waters. As part of the conference outcomes, the UN has developed a registry for more than 1,300 voluntary pledges from diverse actors who would like to contribute to the collective efforts in protecting the seas.

Southeast Asia and its marine environment

As global attention is garnered toward ocean issues, it is timely for Southeast Asian states to re-centre the marine protection discourse in the regional policy debates. The Southeast Asian seas are a body of water connecting nations and providing access to markets. The sea-lanes also sustain approximately 6.5 million fishers’ livelihoods and provide seafood-based proteins for more than 120 million people in the region. However, overfishing, poaching of endangered sea-creatures, climate change, poor governance, and coral reef destruction threaten marine ecosystems and compromise the economic security of people who depend on it.

South China Sea under threat

An important marine environment under grave threat is the South China Sea. The politically contested area accounts for 12% of the total global fishing catch and it provides more than four million jobs for the local fishers from China, the Philippines, and Malaysia. However, scientific evidence assembled by researchers from the University of British Columbia and the University of Wollongong show the deterioration of coral reefs at a rate of 16% in the last decade alone. The coral reef degradation is coupled with the loss of ocean biodiversity that is predicted to reach 59% by 2045. Diverse regional mechanisms are already in place to stop the adverse impacts of marine environmental degradation. For example, Partnerships in Environmental Management of Seas in Courtesy of Flickr account of eltpics and used under a creative commons license. 2 East Asia, the ASEAN Working Group on Coastal and Marine Environment, the ASEAN Maritime Forum, the UN-led Coordinating Body on the Seas of East Asia, and the Coral Triangle Initiative. The most important issue is, therefore, to strengthen the existing mechanisms with new and bolder commitments while ensuring prompt implementation of policy commitments.

Cooperation between Science and Policy

Another significant problem is the gap between the role of science and policy making. Evidencebased policy making is important yet difficult to accomplish when scientists fail to understand how the policy process works. Policy makers usually face a situation where they are forced to make decisions quickly based on limited information. Paul Carney, a Professor of Politics, based at the University of Stirling, explains that scientists’ responsibility is to produce knowledge and to present it in a form that is intelligible to policy makers. He further states that scientists need to focus on long-term strategies by forming a coalition of like-minded experts. Thus, they will be able to collectively look for opportunities to influence and raise attention to evidence-based solutions.

Way Forward

Finally, protecting the seas can only be attained by ensuring the sustainability of small scale fishers’ livelihoods. A sound marine protection policy has to take both environmental and social justice notions into consideration to create a win-win solution for diverse actors and interests.