Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association

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The State of Ocean Governance in the Western Indian Ocean Region

The State of Ocean Governance in the Western Indian Ocean Region

Even though our oceans feed and employ us, produce half of the oxygen on earth, help regulate our climate, and are rich with ingredients for life-saving medicines, they are being degraded by human activities. We dump over 8 million tonnes of litter into the ocean every year. 30% of fisheries are overexploited, while illegal fishing practices costs the world US$23 billion a year. 80% of wastewater is discharged without treatment; nutrient pollution is creating dead zones, and climate change is threatening some of the world’s most critical habitats, like coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrass.  

All countries in the world, including those in the Western Indian Ocean region, have agreed on the critical importance of acting to protect our oceans under the Sustainable Development Goals framework. However, truly achieving the objective of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14 to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development” requires a much stronger ocean governance framework at the national, regional, and global levels. This would entail coordination between different spheres of ocean governance: i.e. within the Exclusive Economic Zones under the jurisdiction of individual coastal states and the wider ocean, i.e. areas beyond national jurisdiction.

Effective regional ocean governance – a pre-requisite to addressing issues like illegal or unsustainable fishing, oil spills, marine litter, climate change, and other transboundary issues – would entail the implementation of policies, institutional frameworks, and actions to protect the ocean environment, the sustainable use of coastal and marine resources, and biodiversity. At all levels, it requires the participation of government institutions, the private sector, NGOs, academics, scientists and wider partners.

“The oceans have many users—from shipping companies to tourists to fishers to miners and more—yet the management and governance of their activities is often scattered amongst many different institutions and sectors,” noted Sinikinesh Beyene Jimma, SAPPHIRE project manager at the Nairobi Convention. “Nor is there adequate coordination with actors within governments, civil society and the private sector who aim to conserve, research or utilize the resources of the ocean.”

The State of Ocean Governance in the Western Indian Ocean Region, developed in partnership with the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, reviews the status and trends in ocean governance in the Western Indian Ocean and identifies key gaps, challenges, and opportunities in relation to global norms and best practices.

Specifically, it focuses on the policy and legal instruments and strategic plans at the global. African, and the regional levels; addresses the governance arrangements in sectors like maritime security or fisheries; summarizes features of national ocean governance; and describes selected international experiences in regional ocean governance.

Policy harmonization, better coordination, and institutional reform can also enable a more rapid recovery from the unprecedented impact of COVID 19. For example, the pandemic has exposed the vulnerability of fisheries and other sectors to global market shocks. Better ocean governance could mitigate these impacts through advancing regional and national governance arrangements that encourage diversified markets, product lines and social security networks in order to make these sectors more resilient in the future.

“It is our hope that the document can serve as a starting off point and inspiration for stakeholders in the Western Indian Ocean region as they embark on developing a region-wide ocean governance strategy,” said Kerstin Stendahl, Head of UNEP’s Ecosystems Integration Branch.

By having a current assessment of the state-of-play of ocean governance at the national level, stakeholders can discuss identified gaps and how to address them and act on opportunities to increase ocean governance cooperation.

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