Some 3,000 government officials, scientists, conservation professionals, NGOs, and Indigenous groups have gathered in Vancouver, Canada to spend the next week laying the groundwork for meeting the Global Biodiversity Framework goal of protecting 30% of global oceans by the end of the decade.
The task is a major one for the 5th International Marine Protected Areas Congress (IMPAC5), with less than 8% of global oceans currently protected.
“We must re-think our policies, economies, priorities, and processes in ways that reflect the important role nature plays in our own health, equity, well-being, and economic sustainability,” host government Canada says on the conference website.
It has identified five overriding themes that all discussions at the event, which kicks off on Friday, will centre around:
• Building a global marine protected area (MPA) network
• Advancing conservation in the blue economy
• Actively managing MPAs and human activity
• Conserving biodiversity and addressing the climate crisis
• Connecting ocean, culture, and human well-being
IMPAC is held every four years, though this year’s event is two years delayed because of the pandemic.
However, US-based Pew Charitable Trusts believes that Canada, as host government at the event as it was for COP15 in December, “is in a prime position to demonstrate to the world how to turn pledges into well-planned effective, scientifically valid, and Indigenous-centred coastal and marine protections”, given its progress on the issue in recent years.
That might be needed, because meeting the GBF target is not only about finding out which additional 22% of world oceans should be declared protected to meet the 2030 goal, but that the specifics and implementation must also make sense.
“This means that the rules governing protected areas, and the enforcement of those measures, must effectively conserve biodiversity and ecosystem functions – and, where needed, improve them,” Peter Baker, who heads up Pew’s ocean work in Canada, the Arctic, and New England, wrote in an IMPAC5 preview piece this week.
“Several international bodies, including the [IUCN], have made significant headway on defining ‘protections’, and Canada and other countries have used this guidance to develop national guidelines. Formalising domestic MPA standards consistent with international standards would be a welcome next step,” Baker said.
With the relative success of COP15 still fresh in mind and with the knowledge that IMPAC5 isn’t a global, legally binding negotiation event, participants are upbeat about the role the Vancouver talks can play.
“With our oceans facing more threats than ever before and pressure mounting, IMPAC5 is a critical opportunity for the global ocean community to come together to take a stand for ocean protection,” Darren Kindleysides, chief executive of the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told Carbon Pulse.
“We know what needs to be done to protect our oceans and marine life. Networks of well-designed and well-funded marine protected areas are the backbone of ocean conservation efforts.”
But even so, the conference is set to be a stage for some hefty debate about how to move forward, even on issues where there is broad agreement in the conservation community about what brings the best biodiversity outcome.
For example, Dominic Andradi-Brown, a marine scientist with WWF, took to Twitter on Thursday to launch a discussion on whether MPAs always should be no-take, ie. a full ban on catching, or more flexible.
“Thought for IMPAC5: The marine conservation community really needs to change the paradigm that no-take is always the best/ideal MPA objective, and anything else is a lesser,” he wrote.
Andradi-Brown was lead author of an article that was published this week in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science, which concluded that while no-take MPAs will usually provide the best biodiversity outcomes, conservation should aim for approaches that bring the best outcome for biodiversity and people.
“We find that partially protected MPAs can offer effective and equitable pathways for biodiversity conservation if tailored to local context,” the article concluded.
“Rather than focusing primarily on fully protected areas for achieving new global MPA targets, we recommend countries use a blend of locally-appropriate protection levels – from fully protected areas to partially protected MPAs to achieve positive biodiversity outcomes.”
That and a multitude of other issues will be discussed at the dozens of events during IMPAC5, which will conclude on Feb. 9.
The Calgary congress is only the first of a series of major ocean-related events this year, with the next in line being international negotiations starting in New York on Feb. 20 that aim to conclude in a global treaty of the high seas with a legally binding instrument for biodiversity beyond national jurisdictions.
By Stian Reklev and Mark Tilly – firstname.lastname@example.org