By Claire Ireland, Senior Environment Specialist, AusAID
On World Oceans Day, Australians can be proud of the crucial work being done with our tax dollars to protect the world’s oceans – and to support the people who depend so heavily on them. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea. Their sustainable management is critical to all of us – and particularly our neighbours in the Pacific. Coastal and marine resources in the Pacific supply more than 80 per cent of food supplies and provide more than 70 per cent of income for poor families.
There is no doubt that the health of the world’s oceans is under threat. Habitat destruction and overfishing mean many of the world’s marine ecosystems are under severe stress. More than 85 per cent of global fisheries are either fully or over-exploited and 75 per cent of the world’s coral reefs are threatened by local and global pressures, including sea water acidification which prevents corals, shellfish and other organisms from growing – affecting food sources for larger fish.
Through our aid program, Australia is already working to address the degradation of the world’s oceans and the impact this has on the livelihoods of poor coastal communities. Through the Coral Triangle Initiative, Australia has the potential to improve the health and livelihoods of 240 million people in the region who rely on the biodiversity and ecosystems of the Coral Triangle. Covering only 1.6 per cent of the world’s oceans, the Coral Triangle is a large marine ecosystem in the Asia Pacific region. It contains 76 per cent of all known coral species, 37 per cent of all coral reef fish, the greatest extent of mangrove forests in the world, and spawning areas for tuna and other globally-significant commercial fish species.
Through this Initiative, the Coral Triangle countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New
Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands and East Timor – are supporting biodiversity conservation, sustainable development and poverty reduction, committing to putting people at the centre of these efforts to ensure the benefits can be shared by all. The Initiative will focus on more sustainable fishing methods and regulations, such as locally managed marine resources, giving poor coastal communities new opportunities to make
a living. Australia has allocated almost $3.5 million to the initiative since 2008.
Australia is also supporting the establishment of the Pacific Oceanscape Framework, a Pacific-wide initiative aimed at fostering stewardship of the ocean at the local, national, regional and international level to ensure the long-term health and wellbeing of the ocean and people’s livelihoods at the Pacific Island leader’s forum in 2009.
We have already seen some successes. In Vietnam, coastal communities in Kien Giang have seen their household incomes increase by 50 to 150 per cent as a result of an
Australian-funded program on the sustainable use of environmental resources. In
Papua New Guinea, Australia is supporting communities to reduce pressure on natural resources through sustainable coral farming, more effectively managing fisheries and fish stocks and preventing coral erosion by protecting mangroves and building dry stone walls. These programs are building local capacity to act on the challenges presented by climate change.
But the challenges remain enormous. Australia is focussing on achieving practical outcomes in a number of priority areas for oceans at Rio+20, the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development taking place in Brazil. One of the aims of the
conference will be to improve the state of fisheries by restoring depleted fish stocks through a commitment to establish a global science-based management plan by 2015, and by enhancing cooperation to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
While calls for action have multiplied, our collective response has fallen far short of what is needed to reverse threats to our environment. Nations must continue to tackle the hard stuff head on. Sustainable development is the only development worth pursuing. And sustainable development is only possible through cooperation.
About the author: Claire Ireland
Claire is AusAID’s Senior Environment Specialist, responsible for the technical oversight of the environment in the Australian aid program. Claire is an environment and development specialist with a broad range of experience in the environment and natural resource sectors including, community based natural resource management,
environmental management systems, safeguards, aid effectiveness and linking local and global environmental perspectives to poverty reduction programs. She has lived and worked in Africa and has experience in a range of country contexts across Africa, Asia and the Pacific.