OPINION PIECE: The Tide is Turning: IMPAC4 Summarized by EWS-WWF Marine Biologist
"We are so good at taking from the ocean. We are taking so much we are altering the nature of nature.
We need to be better at managing ourselves."
Yolanda Kakabadse (WWF president)
In September 2017, managers, local communities, fishermen, researchers, and government officials eagerly came together at one of the world’s most important events for marine conservation: the 4th International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC4).
This year’s conference, hosted by Chile, gathered under an inspirational and powerful theme: “Bringing the people and the ocean together” to reflect on our vital role in securing the future of the ocean, and to also highlight the importance of marine protected areas (MPAs) on both humans and the environment.
The conference was a chance for participants to share their knowledge and experiences on topics such as the role of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in a changing climate, the relationship between MPAS and coastal communities, and the importance in securing efficient and well-managed network of MPAs. It was an honor to represent the Middle East region and discuss its ecological values and the strong relationship that exists between the community and the sea.
With all united under one goal of saving our oceans, the event was an indication that the tides are turning.
Earlier this year, the first ever United Nations Ocean Conference took place in New York where ocean conservation successfully became a pillar of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), marking an important step moving forward in securing the future of oceans. The UN conference emphasized and shone light on the importance of IMPAC4 in putting together strategies to achieve the SDG targets.
This year’s IMPAC4 came with many successful outcomes, including three new Chilean MPAs, a ban on mining in a Penguin reserve, and setting a 10% target in 2020 and a 30% target in 2030 for future MPAs (see below).
Along with these important achievements, there are many key take-aways from the conference.
1. Quality Over Quantity
One of which include that it is time to move beyond the official numbers and percentages of MPAS, and focus on their quality rather than just the quantity.
In order for an MPA to be effective, it needs to be well managed, well resourced, ecologically coherent, integrated and connected; otherwise the numbers are meaningless. The declaration of a protected area is a first step, a sign by the government, but it is not enough. The management plan of an MPA is where the real results lay. Most successful MPAs have been backed by a strategic plan that integrate local communities and relevant key stakeholders.
2. Communication is Key
Another focal point addressed at the conference was the importance of engaging with members of society to raise awareness on the urgent need of protecting and restoring marine and coastal ecosystems. Communication is especially crucial with members who are, in fact, aware of the importance of marine conservation but are underrepresented. There is an urgent need to meaningfully engage with the private sector and underrepresented parts of society to start a dialogue and move forward together.
Several sessions at IMPAC4 also stressed the importance of overcoming challenges to yield results, which include filling people’s gap of knowledge on the oceans crisis, and becoming more action oriented. Relevant science can and should be used to influence management and decisions. While we may need more science– we can’t wait for the perfect science, we need to act now.
3. Empower Future Generations
Finally, a valuable message from IMPAC4 was our responsibility in passing our knowledge to future generations. Every conservation community has the responsibility of investing in the next generation and shaping leaders who carry the duty and responsibility in protecting our oceans.
I am excited to bring all these learnings and apply them to EWS-WWF’s work in the UAE. We have an opportunity to use the lessons learnt to sustain our seas: from supporting the creation of new MPAs and management plans with government and communities, to communicating effectively with different members of society on the ocean crisis and finally passing our knowledge to future generations. Our planet’s oceans and coasts are home to an incredible array of life, and vital to human health, livelihoods and cultures. Limitless as they may seem, damaging human activities are putting tremendous pressures on our oceans. We still have a chance to save our oceans, so let’s turn the tide!