Latin America and the Caribbean

World Oceans Day and the High Seas

“ The sea, the great unifier, is man´s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.”

Jacques Yves Cousteau


Since 2009, the United Nations General Assembly decided that June 8 would be designated as the “World Oceans Day”.

The marine environment constitutes over 70% of the volume of Earth’s biosphere, being the keystone of our planet. While itself is priceless, its ecosystem services are increasingly being recognized with relevant socioeconomic value. Nevertheless, many would think in a mistaken way that the ocean is so vast and remote that it can withstand any kind of pressure and that its wellbeing does not affect us.

World Oceans Day gives us an opportunity to point out the importance of different topics that must be acknowledged by the international community, being the governance of the high seas a critical subject.

About two thirds of the ocean environment is in areas beyond national jurisdiction (ABNJ). However, there is a lack of a comprehensive and integral governance model to address conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity on these areas.

Nowadays, a fragmented and riddled with loopholes scheme, and a sectoral management approach is the “normal prescription” for the high seas, where there is an absence of an effective mandate for coordination between the numerous Agencies, Organizations and Treaties. In synthesis, the current legal regime on the high seas is insufficient, leaving nearly half the surface of the planet beyond the reach of a global regulation.

Meanwhile, increasing pressure from threats such as overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, climate change and ocean acidification, undermines the highly productive areas on the high seas, which supports large pelagic fish, marine mammals, seabirds, and vital ecosystems for multiple species, and threaten the connectivity between coastal ecosystems and the high seas.

In this regard, new challenges have developed and governance schemes are increasingly necessary for the ABNJ. Currently, there is an urgent need for the establishment of appropriate management structures and procedures that will enable States, and the relevant regional and international bodies, to develop and enforce effective measures on these rich and vulnerable oceanic areas.

A process has been evolving for a decade at the United Nations, where the General Assembly established the ‘UN ad hoc open-ended informal Working Group to study issues related to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction’ (the BBNJ Working Group); with the objective to address legal gaps in the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity on the high seas, including through the possible development of a multilateral agreement under UNCLOS.

The following milestone was achieved at the Rio+20 Summit, where a majority of States were in favor of the development of an international instrument under UNCLOS, aimed specifically at high seas biodiversity protection; and a commitment to decide the beginning of a negotiation of a new Implementing Agreement must be fulfilled before the end of the 69th session of the General Assembly (September 2015).

Further on, the working group agreed that the scope of the new Implementing Agreement would address marine genetic resources, including the distribution of benefits, area-based management tools, including marine protected areas, environmental impact assessments, the capacity building and transfer of marine technology, together as a single package.

At this time, the process continues at the U.N, and hopefully the States will agree to start the negotiation of this critical Agreement to secure the conservation and sustainability of marine resources on the high seas, giving to our generation the opportunity to change the status quo, which is no longer an option.


Mariamalia Rodríguez Chaves

2013-2014 Fellow

Costa Rica


Developing Coastal States Facing Ocean Issues

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]here are a lot of obstacles that had to be handling by developing Coastal States. These obstacles include cultural, financial, legal, natural disasters and political aspects to issue and implement management measures to use and preserve marine ecosystems in a sustainable way, especially in the case of fisheries resources.

All Coastal States have the right to use oceans according to the international and customary law, they have also the responsibility to manage stocks occurring within their exclusive economic zones of two or more coastal States or both within the exclusive economic zone and in an area beyond and adjacent to it. That is why countries like the Members of the Organization for Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector of the Central American Isthmus –OSPESCA, are looking to enforce regional regulations intended to manage some resources in common the best way as possible with the harmonization of proceedings and implementation of standards aimed to eradicate illegal fishing.

The OSPESCA Members are cooperating in the establishment of equitable arrangements on a regional basis to exploit, use and preserve living resources. Nowadays there is a regulation range that includes the following topics:

1. Regional aquaculture and fisheries registry
2. Regional regulation for lobster (Panulirus argus)
3. Regional vessel monitoring system
4. Ethic code for responsible fisheries
5. Prohibition for shark finning
6. Proper use of the turtle excluder device
7. Strengthens the whale shark (Rhincodon typus) stocks
8. Prevent, discourage and eliminate illegal fishing

Developing Coastal States as the prior mentioned, know that there is nothing impossible, maybe there are some obstacles in their ways to find a common goal named: Regional Sustainability. But they also know that a key to accomplish that goal is the enforcement of laws and regulations that should be issued to face the problems which are affecting our oceans, such as illegal fishing and the tragedy of the commons.

On World Oceans Day 2014, we have to remember that we all have the power to protect our Oceans!


ICZM Policy Development in Trinidad and Tobago – A Participatory Process

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]ntegrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) is a partnership and consensus-building exercise. It brings together all sectors to co-ordinate and integrate activities on the coast so as to achieve sustainable management of coastal space and resources (Sorensen 1997). It adopts the concept of co-management, where stakeholders share aspects of governance with the State. In Trinidad and Tobago, a multi-sectoral Cabinet appointed Steering Committee is working to formulate an ICZM policy framework, strategies and action plan for the country.

In-keeping with the participatory nature of ICZM the Steering Committee held 19 pre-policy consultations with stakeholders including government agencies, the media, the energy sector, the business sector and coastal communities throughout Trinidad and Tobago. One goal of these nation-wide consultations was to determine issues stakeholders believed should be addressed by an ICZM policy as well as the interventions they recommend to address them.

The Steering Committee worked closely with Local Government bodies to organize and conduct the consultations. The Local Government bodies provided support in certain logistical aspects e.g. provision of venues, and also helped in informing and mobilizing stakeholder interests to enable their participation the consultations. Dialogue emanating out of the consultations was successful in revealing a host of issues that affect coastal areas and interest groups around the country.

Several issues stood out as being particularly popular, having been raised in the majority of consultations. The top five most frequently voiced were:

  • The need to enhance public education and awareness on the importance of the coastal environment and the issues facing it.
  • Inadequate compliance to existing laws and policies. It was felt that this was in part largely facilitated by a lack of enforcement.
  • The perpetuation of unplanned and/or poorly regulated development along the coastline. Concerns were raised regarding a range of development types including squatter settlements, high-end dwellings and development for industrial and business purposes.
  • The need for science to be better used to guide management. This included ensuring the needed scientific data is available as well as, when it does exist, using it more effectively to influence policy.
  • Many laws, regulations, standards and/or policies relating to coastal zone management were deemed ineffective or lacking. Connected to this point, it was largely recognized that ineffectiveness of these instruments could result from inadequate capacity and resources in institutions with roles in aspects of coastal zone management.

Fishing was also a much discussed topic overall. In coastal communities where livelihoods were pre-dominantly fisheries based, issues of overfishing, fish stock decline and/or inadequate knowledge about the status of the fisheries resources were popular. Incidences where conflict manifested between fisherfolk and other activities that utilize the near-shore coastal space, in particular the oil and gas and maritime transport industries, also featured prominently. For example, the question of seismic survey impact on living marine resources was highlighted in 12 out of the 19 pre-policy consultations. Related concerns included the global and national uncertainty surrounding the actual impact of seismic testing on fisheries. Calls were made for increased caution to be taken through the requirement of more rigorous Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) when undertaking seismic testing. In addition, the need to establish and adhere to proper policy on consultation and compensation procedures between oil and gas and fisheries interests was recognized in several consultation events.

Consultations with coastal stakeholders who primarily use the coastal zone for large scale economic gain e.g. business interests and energy sector entities, also revealed additional pertinent issues that have implications for the national earning potential of coastal activities and resource use. The issues identified included the bureaucracy involved when seeking approvals and permits to conduct activities in the coastal zone. It was felt that some processes could be streamlined as they were lengthy and convoluted, thereby discouraging investment. Another issue, identified by energy interests in particular, was the need for zoning and Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) techniques to be applied, especially off the western coast of Trinidad – the Gulf of Paria. It was felt that application of these techniques is necessary to avoid problems of conflict, hazards and competition for finite space and resources, which are predicted to become more intense as trade and commercial activity in the Gulf of Paria expands in the coming years.

Other prominent issues, highlighted by a varied cross-section of consultation participants, concerned oil spill preparedness, response and impact; ongoing mangrove degradation and destruction; solid waste pollution especially at recreational coastal sites; and coastal erosion. Many participants also lamented the laissez-faire attitude of the average Trinidad and Tobago citizen and called for a wider cultural change in society, where issues are taken more seriously and Governments are made to be more accountable to the population.

A myriad of issues and concerns, pertinent to citizens and areas throughout Trinidad and Tobago, were brought to the fore during the pre-policy consultations. The next step is to craft the ICZM Policy Framework, strategies and action plan with a view to treating with these issues and concerns, directly or indirectly, in a comprehensive way.


Sorensen, J. (1997) National and international efforts at integrated coastal management: Definitions, achievements and lessons. Coastal Management 25(1), pp. 3-41.


The Large Marine Ecosystems

The Large Marine Ecosystems

[dropcap]L[/dropcap]arge Marine Ecosystems are regions of ocean space of 200,000 km2 or greater that include coastal areas, from river basins and estuaries, to outer margins of a continental shelf or the seaward extent of a predominant coastal current. The concept of LMEs provides a science-based approach for the management of particular areas of oceans. The LME model links the management of drainage basins and coastal areas with continental shelves and dominant coastal currents of neighboring countries. Out of the 64 LMEs identified in the world, the LME concept for ecosystem based management is applied to 17 regional Global Environment Facility (GEF) and/or World Bank funded projects in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe (Sherman et al, 2009).



The main objective of the Large Marine Ecosystems is to formulate effective management intervention and it requires social sciences as well as natural research since many of the root causes of the problems in coastal countries are produced by human activities. The LME approach is based on five modules for its assessment and management that consist in:

1) Pollution and ecosystem health,

2) Fish and fisheries,

3) Productivity,

4) Governance and,

5) Socio-economics.

modular Source: Sherman, K., Aquarone, M.C. and Adams, S. (Editors) 2009. “Sustaining the World’s Large Marine Ecosystems.”  Gland, Switzerland: IUCN.

The Ecosystem Based Management is used in the management of LMEs and in the long term, it aims at the sustainable delivery of services and the capacity to recover of populations of living marine resources commercial and non-commercial, and the reduction of sources of pollution. Implementing an EBM in marine ecosystems requires thinking broadly and considering the huge diversity of food-web interactions and the drivers of ecosystem functions using integrated coastal zone management approaches (ICZM).

The approach uses the Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA) to identify transboundary issues, and use the best available scientific information to examine the state of the environment and the root causes/drivers for its degradation. Through step wise consensus building, the TDA provides the necessary information for the development of the Strategic Action Plan (SAP) that consist in holistical and multi-sectoral consideration of the problems associated with the threats that the area is facing. Both, the TDA and SAP, correspond to the first phase of any project.

Some of the challenges that different LMEs in the world are facing are related to the time for developing the Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA), the adoption of a Strategic Action Plan (SAP) and strengthening of institutional arrangements for SAP implementation. Some problems associated to different projects seem to be more dependent on political factors than GEF funding, linked of factors such as the number of countries bordering the LME, the long time used to develop the TDA and SAP, the lack of political will to engage in regional collaboration and existing regional policy and institutional frameworks.

Interesting reading “Catalysing Ocean Finance”

cq5dam.thumbnail.221.289The world’s oceans and coastal areas are an integral part of life on earth. They are under significant threat, whether that be from pollution, overexploita­tion, habitat loss, invasive species, or climate change.

Catalysing Ocean Finance demonstrates that, far from being an intractable problem, sustainable ocean management could become a successful legacy of today’s generation of decision-makers. It shows how the challenges facing the ocean stem from widely understood market and policy failures – failures which can be addressed through the application of appropriate mixes of market and policy instruments.

Over the past twenty years, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the GEF have successfully developed a range of strategic planning tools aimed at assisting governments to put in place enabling policy environments to catalyse investment for restoring and protecting the marine environment. In several cases, catalysed public and private financial flows have exceeded the initial GEF investment several hundred times. In some cases, these instruments have helped to shift sizeable ocean industries, such as shipping and tuna fisheries, to a more environmentally sustainable path.

Catalysing Ocean Finance (Volumes I & II) takes stock of how effective these instruments have been in helping countries to address challenges facing the oceans and explore how they could be successfully scaled up. It estimates that an initial public investment – on the order of $5 billion over the next ten to twenty years – could be sufficient to catalyse several hundred billion dollars of public and private invest­ment, and thereby foster global transformation of ocean markets towards sustainability.