UN Decade on Biodiversity (2011-2020) and Our Oceans: Where are we?
Prepared by Rahanna Juman, Director (Ag)
Institute of Marine Affairs
In 2010, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly declared the period 2011-2020, as the UN Decade on Biodiversity to promote the implementation of a strategic plan on biodiversity, and its overall vision of living in harmony with nature. The goal was to mainstream biodiversity at different levels, that is integrate biodiversity conservation in all sectoral plans and policies.
The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) also in 2010, adopted the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, which included twenty (20) targets known as the Aichi Biodiversity Targets. These global targets were adopted with a deadline of 2020 and focused on the actions and outcomes needed to put the world on a path to achieve the 2050 Vision for Biodiversity which is, “By 2050, biodiversity is valued, conserved, restored and wisely used, maintaining ecosystem services, sustaining a healthy planet and delivering benefits essential for all people.”
Trinidad and Tobago is blessed with diverse coastal and marine ecosystems that support an array of floral and faunal species. In 1996, we ratified the UN Convention of Biological Diversity. In April 2018, the Cabinet agreed to the approval of the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) for Trinidad and Tobago for the period 2017-2022. The 2018 NBSAP was a revision of the first NBSAP prepared in 2001. The revision was required to ensure national priorities for biodiversity conservation are re-defined and integrated into other national and international programmes. The seven (7) priority national targets are:
- By 2020, at the latest, at least 50% of people are aware of the values and understanding of biodiversity and at least 30% of people are aware of the steps they can take to conserve and use biodiversity sustainably.
- By 2020, the rate of loss of all-natural habitats, including marine habitats, is at least halved and degradation and fragmentation is significantly reduced.
- By 2020, at least 30% of the major commercially important fish, invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably.
- By 2020, at least 30% of areas under agriculture are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity and at least 50% of areas under forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.
- By 2020, invasive alien species (IAS) and pathways are identified and prioritised for action.
- By 2020, at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water, and 10% of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are managed consistent with approved plans.
- By 2020, the extinction of at least 60% of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.
Despite national efforts to protect biodiversity through public education and awareness and the management of protected areas, our marine biodiversity is still under threat. The country has loss all Thalassia dominated seagrass beds along the northwest peninsula of Trinidad and in Guayaguayare Bay and in Kilgwyn Bay, Tobago. These seagrass beds harboured much biodiversity and provided nursery areas for commercially important fish and shellfish species. Our mangrove forests and coral reefs are subjected to impacts from human activities and our fisheries continue to be in decline, with many commercial stocks either near full exploitation, fully exploited or over-fished.
So what has the world achieved during the Decade on Biodiversity? According to the Global Biodiversity Outlook 5 (GBO-5) Report published by the CBD in 2020, the rate of biodiversity loss is unprecedented in human history and pressures are intensifying. The more humanity exploits nature in unsustainable ways and undermines its contributions to people, the more we undermine our own well-being, security and prosperity.
Let’s focus on the Aichi Targets that are especially relevant to achieving a healthy, productive and sustainable ocean and what the GBO-5 states.
Target 3: Incentive Reforms- Harmful incentives eliminated or reformed and positive incentive applied. For instance, harmful subsidies often favour fuel-intensive fishing and larger scale vessels and these are doubly harmful by encouraging the wasteful use of fuel and supporting destructive fishing practices, such as deep-sea trawling.
- There has been little progress in reducing global fisheries subsidies.
- The value of harmful incentives as a proportion of all fishing subsidies increased between 2009 and 2018. Of the more than USD35 billion provided as fishing subsidies in 2018, some USD22 billion was spent on subsidies linked to overfishing through expanding the capacity of fishing fleets.
Target 6: Sustainable Management of Aquatic Living Resources – By 2020, all fish and invertebrate stocks and aquatic plants are managed and harvested sustainably, legally and applying ecosystem based approaches, so that overfishing is avoided, recovery plans and measures are in place for all depleted species, fisheries have no significant adverse impacts on threatened species and vulnerable ecosystems and the impacts of fisheries on stocks, species and ecosystems are within safe ecological limits.
- A third of marine fish stocks are overfished, a higher proportion than ten (10) years ago.
- Many fisheries are still negatively impacting mammals, birds and amphibians, and their habitats, through bycatch, mortality in fishing gear and disturbance.
- However, where good fisheries management policies have been introduced, involving stock assessments, catch limits, and enforcement, the abundance of marine fish stocks has been maintained or rebuilt.
- Notable successes have been achieved recently in reducing overfishing by addressing illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Target 7: Sustainable Agriculture, Aquaculture and Forestry- By 2020, areas under agriculture, aquaculture and forestry are managed sustainably, ensuring conservation of biodiversity.
- Aquaculture is the fastest growing sector of global food production, and its expansion has caused large-scale loss and destruction of coastal wetlands (especially mangroves), and pollution of soil and water. In recent years, the proportion of feed coming from capture fisheries has declined, and of this, more is coming from bycatch.
- Positive developments include the recent replacement of capture fisheries as a fish feed with bycatch, seaweed and microalgae, as well as the increased use of bivalve filter feeders to lower nutrient load and reduce water pollution.
Target 8: Pollution reduced – By 2020, pollution, including from excess nutrients, has been brought to levels that are not detrimental to ecosystem function and biodiversity
- Recent estimates indicate that more than ten (10) million tonnes of plastic waste are currently entering the oceans every year, endangering fish, seabirds and other taxa.
- Public concern about plastic pollution has risen sharply in many countries, giving rise to policies and campaigns to reduce or prohibit single-use plastics. However, these efforts do not meet the level of action needed to sufficiently reduce plastics from entering the environment.
- Abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear (“ghost gear”) is a particularly deadly form of marine waste impacting many threatened species, including through entanglement and ingestion. It also has impacts on sensitive marine environments, such as coral reefs.
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to Climate Change- By 2015, the multiple anthropogenic pressures on coral reefs, and other vulnerable ecosystems impacted by climate change or ocean acidification are minimised, so as to maintain their integrity and functioning.
- Corals have shown the most rapid increase in extinction risk of all assessed taxonomic groups. More than 60% of the world’s coral reefs face immediate direct threats.
- The highest levels of coral cover decline have been in the Caribbean region, currently classed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Ecosystems, while reefs in the Western Indian Ocean have shown intermediate decline and are classed as Vulnerable.
- Coral reef communities have shifted significantly in many locations: faster-growing species that create complex habitat for reef-dwelling species have been replaced by slower-growing corals more resistant to higher temperatures but offering less niche-space to other species.
Target 11: Protected Areas – By 2020, at least 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.
- MPA coverage has increased significantly between 2000 and 2020 from about 3% to at least 7% (including 17.2% of marine areas within national jurisdiction and 1.2% of marine areas beyond jurisdiction). Commitments made by countries for new or expanded protected areas amount to more than 12.5 million km22 in the oceans.
- Progress has been more modest in terms of ensuring that MPAs safeguard the most important areas for biodiversity, ecological representativity and connectivity, and management effectiveness.
Target 12: Reducing Risk of Extinction – By 2020, the extinction of known threatened species has been prevented and their conservation status, particularly of those most in decline, has been improved and sustained.
- The proportion of marine species threatened with extinction ranges from 7.5% for selected families of bony fishes, to 30% of sharks and rays, to 33% of reef-forming corals.
- Recent declines in marine species are slower than those of terrestrial species, but there is a high level of uncertainty. According to the Living Planet Index, marine species populations have declined 8% since 2000, compared to freshwater species (44%) and terrestrial species (39%).
Target 15: Ecosystem Restoration and Resilience – By 2020, ecosystem resilience and the contribution of biodiversity to carbon stocks has been enhanced, through conservation and restoration, including restoration of at least 15 per cent of degraded ecosystems, thereby contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and to combatting desertification.
- There has been a surge in projects to restore coastal ecosystems, including mangroves, seagrass meadows, kelp forests, as well as coral and oyster reefs. These efforts have improved water quality, provided coastal protection and contributed to the mitigation of climate change or “Blue Carbon”.
- Despite the successes, only a small proportion of such habitats have been restored. It is estimated that more than 800,000 hectares of mangroves have potential for restoration.
For Trinidad and Tobago, legislative and policy reform is now imperative as well as protection of critical fish nursery habitats. The draft Integrated Coastal Zone Management Policy Framework 2020 encourages an integrated (across geographical spaces), multi-disciplinary, multi-sectoral and participatory approach to resource management that would help conserve our biodiversity and restore degraded coastal and marine ecosystems. In addition, the Draft Fisheries Management Bill 2018 will modernise fisheries management by creating a robust legal basis for regulation of the fishing industry and management of the common property fisheries resources of Trinidad and Tobago. As the world looks toward implementing a post 2020 global biodiversity framework to halt biodiversity loss, citizens of our beautiful island state much appreciate the biodiversity we have been blessed with and we must do our part to conserve it.
Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (2020) Global Biodiversity Outlook 5. Montreal
Environmental Management Authority, 2018. National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (NBSAP) for Trinidad and Tobago.