Western Indian Ocean states discuss ‘blue economy’, challenges and threats


Delegates and guests in a souvenir photograph after the opening ceremony

The states, notably Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Somalia, Comoros, France (through Reunion) and Seychelles, are aiming for a strategic action programme to set out a long-term commitment to sustainable management of the marine ecosystem.

Meeting at Le Méridien Barbarons hotel, they also plan improved coordination to make more effective use of scientific evidence on the causes of environmental degradation in the decision-making process.

Environment and Energy Minister, Professor Rolf Payet, said it is the first time that senior officials from the region are here to deliberate on the large marine ecosystems (LMEs) of the western Indian Ocean region.

He echoed the sentiment made by President James Michel at the recent African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he called for more attention to be given to Africa’s ocean and its islands, adding that problems such as piracy came about because Africa’s lack of capacity and political will to secure this ocean space.

The President had said: “It is time that Africa redefines its relationship with its oceans. Our oceanic space is currently not being given enough attention. Piracy profits from the fact that we, as African governments, have not done enough to secure this developmental space.”

Professor Payet also recalled that President Michel had cited the example of the recent  ground-breaking agreement between Seychelles and Mauritius on a shared extended continental shelf as an illustration of states working together to mobilise the true potential of the ‘blue economy’.

According to Professor Payet, the coastal zones of the western Indian Ocean houses a population of over 56 million people who depend on marine and coastal resources. Their access to these resources and the well-being of these millions are an integral part of the ecosystem-based management approach.

Other challenges, Professor Payet noted, include sea level rise, coastal erosion, overfishing, biodiversity loss, habitat destruction, pollution from land-based sources, marine pollution, invasive species and development pressure which is land reclamation.

He said it is estimated that more than 4 million tonnes of fish are caught annually and these generate close to US $1 billion in annual fisheries revenue. However, estimates of losses incurred as a result of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the region range as high as US $500 million per year.

Tourism, which also depends on healthy marine environments, accounts for approximately 30-50% of the GDP of the island states of the western Indian Ocean, such as Seychelles and Mauritius.

According to Professor Payet, all the recent studies and predictions indicate that the impacts of climate change are likely to hit Africa hardest, and particularly the smaller island states.

“Recognising this, the projects have embarked on an ambitious plan to create an ecosystem monitoring network, including the deployment of oceanographic and ocean-climate monitoring in the region. The network is backed by extensive oceanographic research, remotely sensed data and a drive to develop more accurate and finer-scale climate models,” added the minister.

He noted that this information will help decision-makers in visualising and monitoring the extent and speed at which environmental variability and climate change affect communities and help to better prioritise and plan for mitigation and adaptation measures.

Concluding, Professor Payet also mentioned the recent United Nations conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He noted that the global community issued a formal statement calling on the world’s leaders present to agree to take immediate steps to achieving the sustainable development goals related to oceans, coastal areas and small developing island states.

The head of the south west Indian Ocean Fisheries Project (SWIOFP), Rondolph Payet, said a recent study by the Stockholm Environment Institute notes that the cost of damaging our oceans could run up to US $2 trillion.

“What portion of that reflects our part of the ocean is yet to be determined, but we should not be surprised how much we are losing,” he said.

Mr Payet said pollution, coastal erosion, overfishing, biodiversity loss and climate change are severely compounding each other and should not be tackled individually, he said.

He noted that the ecosystem-based approach starts with the idea that all things in the environment are interlinked, in other words we should strive for an outcome that has a positive sum. That is while creating wealth, the environment, from which the wealth is derived, is also sustained.

Environment and Energy principal secretary Wills Agricole was unanimously elected to chair the meeting which goes on until tomorrow.

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