Future of Oceans, Coasts, Small Island States in Conference Spotlight

PARIS, France, January 24, 2006 (ENS) - Coral reefs and mangroves are fast disappearing, according to a United Nations report released today at an oceans conference that takes place just once every three years. Close to a third of corals have gone, with 60 percent expected to be lost by 2030. More than a third of all mangroves have disappeared, with the rate of loss greater than that of tropical rainforests.

The Third Global Conference on Oceans, Coasts, and Islands opening today at UNESCO headquarters in Paris will review progress achieved and obstacles blocking the sustainable development of oceans, coasts, and small island developing states. Hosted by the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), some 350 delegates from around the world will examine the planet’s increasingly threatened marine and coastal ecosystems. coral

Excessive runoff, sedimentation, trash, pollutant discharges from coastal development, agriculture, deforestation, and sewage treatment plant operations can harm corals. Hot water discharges from water treatment plants and power plants can alter the water chemistry in coastal areas. (Photo courtesy NOAA)

The value of healthy coral reefs anywhere in the world is estimated at between US$100,000 to US$600,000 per square kilometer per year, The costs of conserving these same reefs in a marine protected area, would be just US$775 per square kilometer per year, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report estimates.

“I hope the financial facts contained in this study will radically change the attitude and behavior of governments, industry, local authorities and individuals, so that they better prize and conserve these natural assets, said UNEP’s Executive Director Klaus Toepfer, "so that they think twice about the pollution, climate change, insensitive development and other damaging practices that are rapidly undermining the economic basis for so many coastal communities worldwide."

In Indonesia, where tourism is the main use, reefs are estimated to be worth US$1 million per square kilometer, based on the cost of maintaining sandy beaches.

Similar values have been obtained for the Caribbean, varying from "US$2,000 to US$1 million, with the highest values in areas heavily dependent for tourism,” says the report.

In American Samoa, researchers calculate that mangroves there are worth just over US$100,000 per square kilometer equivalent to US$50 million a year. In Thailand, the figure is even higher with mangroves estimated to be worth up to US$3.5 million per square kilometer.

The report, “In the Front Line: Shoreline Protection and other Ecosystem Services from Mangroves and Coral Reefs” was produced by UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre in collaboration with the International Coral Reef Action Network and IUCN-the World Conservation Union.

Of the estimated 30 million small-scale fishers in the developing world, most are dependent to a greater or lesser extent on coral reefs. In the Philippines, the study finds that more than one million fishers depend directly on coral reefs for their livelihoods.

Overall, reef fish may account for a quarter of the global fish catch, providing food for one billion people.


Mangroves protect shorelines from the effects of storms and serve as nurseries for fish. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
Mangroves are also important for fisheries. An estimated 75 percent of commercially caught prawns in Queensland, Australia, depend on mangroves. A 400 square kilometer managed mangrove forest in Matang, Malaysia, supports a fishery worth US$100 million a year.

Marine organisms often contain pharmaceutically active compounds. To date, reef organisms have provided an anticancer agent and show promise for HIV treatment.

In 2000, net annual benefits from dive tourism in the Caribbean amounted to just over US$2 billion with US$625 million spent directly on diving on reefs.

Jon Hutton, the incoming director of UNEP-WCMC, said the study is important because "it not only gives tangible values for nature’s services, it also illustrates the critical importance of data collection, storage and analysis that UNEP undertakes on behalf of the world.”

Reefs and mangroves are important, but an array of other ocean issues are also urgent. Conference delegates will pay special attention to emerging and unresolved issues of oceans and climate, including ocean acidification, carbon dioxide sequestration, and Arctic climate change.

High seas governance, including exploitation of biotech resources and protection of sensitive resources and biodiversity, is also high on the agenda. High seas governance is particularly important as 64 percent of the world’s oceans lie beyond the limits of national jurisdictions and are subject to stress, due to fishing pressure.

The conference will focus on lessons learned from the tsunami disaster of December 2004 in which more than 225,000 people in 11 countries around the Indian Ocean lost their lives. More than three million people were displaced by the 9.0 earthquake off the coast of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and the resulting tsunami.

The gathering is intended to provide a multi-stakeholder forum for cross-sectoral South-North dialogue among developed countries, developing countries, small island developing States, and countries with economies in transition in advancing the global oceans agenda.

Delegates are expected to develop recommendations for tangible next steps and markers by which to track progress in the attainment of the international ocean targets such as implementation of the UN Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities with a view to achieving substantial progress this year.


A Kiribati boy fishes off the Tarawa wharf. Mostly low-lying coral atolls surrounded by extensive reefs, the Pacific Ocean nation of Kiribati includes three island groups - the Gilbert Islands, Line Islands and Phoenix Islands. (Photo by Natalie Behring courtesy Greenpeace)
A particular focus of attention at the conference will be implementation of the Mauritius Strategy, written in January 2005 to address the fact that small island developing states are located among the most vulnerable regions in the world for intense and frequent natural and environmental disasters and their increasing impact. Small island nations face disproportionately high economic, social and environmental consequences, as demonstrated by the tragic impacts of the Indian Ocean tsunami.

The delegates will develop specific recommendations for engaging decisionmakers and the public in support of a global oceans agenda based on consideration of resolutions of the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development, the Millennium Development Goals, and other related agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity and Agenda 21.

Major targets for oceans, coasts, and small island states from the World Summit on Sustainable Development and the Millennium Development Goals include the application of the ecosystem approach by 2010 for the sustainable development of the oceans, particularly in the management of fisheries and the conservation of biodiversity.

Other major targets are the maintenance or restoration of depleted fish stocks to levels that can produce their maximum sustainable yield on an urgent basis and where possible no later than 2015, and the elimination of subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing and to overcapacity of fishing fleets.

The World Ocean Network and its partners invite Global Conference participants to participate in the 3rd International Meeting "Acting Together for the Future of the Blue Planet" to be held immediately after the Third Global Conference at NAUSICAA, Centre National de la Mer, in Boulogne/Mer in France, from January 29 to February 2.

All organizations reaching out to the general public are encouraged to participate in the meeting to help further develop a global campaign to raise public awareness and an action plan for the sustainable use of the ocean.

The event, organized under the aegis of the IOC/UNESCO and with the participation of Jean-Michel Cousteau, chair of the World Ocean Network committee of honor, will allow participants the opportunity to state their priorities regarding sustainable use of the ocean. They will also share results of the joint activities conducted since the 2nd International Meeting in 2002, and plan further cooperation for the next three years.