Ocean Protection Begins Far Inland

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, September 3, 2002 (ENS) - Drawing on a new emphasis on the interrelationships between ecosystems, the United States is preparing to launch a new initiative that aims to protect ocean ecosystems by cleaning up land based sources of pollution. The White Water to Blue Water initiative was announced Monday at the World Summit for Sustainable Development in South Africa.

The National Oceanic at Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which leads the U.S. Commerce Department's delegation to the World Summit, says the new initiative emphasizes a cross sectoral approach to ecosystem management, beginning with upstream pollution sources, and extending through coastal wetlands, mangrove swamps and coral reefs into the ocean.

By 2015, the initiative's partners hope to help implement integrated marine management programs, involving land, coastal and ocean based ecosystems, in 25 percent of all coastal nations.


NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher announced the new initiative at the World Summit on Monday. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
"As the world's coastal populations continue to grow and coastal areas develop, we must take a broader view of management practices to include inland areas and fresh water," said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher. "Only by understanding more about the interaction of these diverse ecosystems can we ensure the safe and healthy development of coastal areas and the conservation of our valuable ocean resources."

More than 50 percent of the world's population now lives in coastal areas and depends heavily on oceans and coastal resources for survival. That percentage is expected to rise to 75 percent by 2025.

Yet overfishing, pollution, degradation of habitats, and natural disasters increasingly undermine the ability of coastal populations to meet basic health, economic and social needs.

Watersheds, inland forests, agricultural areas and population centers are the source of about 80 percent of marine pollution. Pollution from these areas flows into the coastal regions that serve as nurseries for many marine species, including most of the species that humans fish commercially.

The initiative's goal is to improve the capacities of coastal nations to manage entire coastal marine ecosystems by involving all stakeholders - both upstream and down. These include all levels of government, international organizations, non-governmental organizations and the private sector.


Sewage pollution has forced the closure of oyster and clam beds in many estuaries due to concerns about human health. (Photo courtesy NOAA)
Dawn Martin, chief operating officer of Oceana, said the initiative "is an example of the type of action that must be taken," to combine the efforts of all ocean stakeholders and "take on the many challenges facing the oceans."

Oceana, a non-profit international environmental organization dedicated to ocean protection, is one of the groups whose expertise will be involved in implementing the ecosystem wide approach of the White Water to Blue Water initiative.

White Water to Blue Water knits together a variety of existing international commitments, including the Barbados Programme of Action, the Montreal Declaration of the Global Program of Action, the Jakarta Mandate of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Cartagena Convention and its three protocols, the International Coral Reef Initiative, the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Compliance Agreement, the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the 1995 UN Fish Stocks Agreement, and the 2000 Convention on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific Ocean.

The United States believes that the implementation of each of these treaties and agreements can be improved by overlaying an ecosystem wide approach, and examining how the requirements of each pact can be combined to support the larger goal of ocean protection.


Land based pollution sources, such as polluted runoff from street and parking lots, affects the health of downstream ocean ecosystems. (Photo courtesy South Florida Water Management District)
"White Water to Blue Water is an innovative plan that engages governments and stakeholders on every level to participate in the process of more effectively managing coastal and marine resources and to seek out new ways to address environmental challenges," Lautenbacher said. "This inclusive approach looks beyond coasts to address the myriad of inland activities, such as agriculture and sewage runoff, that can degrade coastal environments and impact marine resources such as fisheries and coral reefs."

By supporting healthy marine and coastal ecosystems, the initiative will help sustain vibrant, stable and secure economies in coastal nations, Lautenbacher added. The initiative sets a goal of implementing integrated coastal, ocean and fisheries management programs in 25 percent of coastal nations by 2015.

The United States has agreed to take the leading governmental role in the first phase of White Water to Blue Water, which will focus on watershed and marine ecosystem management in the wider Caribbean region. A pilot project in the Caribbean will begin in spring 2003, with a U.S. hosted conference for Caribbean stakeholders that will provide networking opportunities for implementing organizations and potential funders.

The goal of the pilot program is to achieve a 25 percent improvement in the quality of domestic wastewater discharged into coastal waters and watersheds from urban Caribbean areas by 2015. The initiative will involve nations, regional agencies and business partners in improving watershed and marine coastal management, environmental protection, agriculture practices and urban planning.


Restoring natural twists and turns to waterways, like this farm stream in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, can reduce the flow of sediment and pollutants into the ocean. (Photo courtesy NOAA Restoration Center)
Representatives from Africa and the Pacific Small Island States will be invited to participate in next year's conference to help begin similar efforts in those regions. Additional activities addressing particular problem areas, such as fisheries, coral reefs and pollution from sewage and shipping, will follow.

White Water to Blue Water is the result of a U.S. multi-agency effort, including input from the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Interior and State, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Similar programs could be expanded to include Africa and the South Pacific in 2004 and 2005, NOAA said this week.

The initiative is backed by several other governments, including the United Kingdom, France, Spain and the Wider Caribbean states. Non-governmental partners include the Ocean Conservancy, Consortium for Ocean Research and Education, Oceana, EcoLogic and a number of universities.

The hotel, cruise line and tourism industries will also be involved in implementing the White Water to Blue Water approach at the initial pilot meetings next year.


Divers work to restore coral damaged by a ship grounding of Mona Island, Puerto Rico. Coral reefs serve as nurseries for many commercially fished species. (Photo by Erik Zobrist, courtesy NOAA Restoration Center)
The Caribbean pilot project will also focus on promoting sustainable fisheries by reducing illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, integrating fisheries and coral reef management efforts, reducing bycatch and promoting environmentally sound aquaculture. The initiative's partners also hope to provide financial support and expertise to help upgrade sewage treatment and agricultural runoff management in the Caribbean.

Increasing sustainable tourism and combating ship based pollution and the introduction of invasive species will also be addressed at next year's conference.

For more information on the White Water to Blue Water initiative, click here.