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IMA > News  > A Safe Ocean

A Safe Ocean

Prepared by: Ruqayyah Thompson, Research Officer
Institute of Marine Affairs

The United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development- Part V

This is the fifth article of a seven-part series on the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development on the Fifth Societal Outcome: a Safe Ocean.

Coastal communities and ocean users operate within a dynamic environment, faced with a range of ocean hazards that are both natural and human-induced. These can have a significant impact on marine environments and can result in loss of life and livelihoods. Risks of exposure to ocean hazards therefore require assessment, forecasting, mitigating, adaptive responses and policies to mainstream resilience towards ‘A safe ocean where life and livelihoods are protected from ocean-related hazards’ – Outcome 5 of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021 – 2030.

The Ocean Decade with its vision, ‘The science we need for the ocean we want’ was declared in response to global ocean knowledge gaps and the need for interdisciplinary ocean research to support the timely delivery of data, information and knowledge required for a well-functioning ocean in support of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Ocean data including hydro-meteorological, geophysical and biological data, as well as improved forecasting systems are needed to plan and respond to ocean hazards, which contribute to a safe ocean.

In Trinidad and Tobago, ocean hazards commonly experienced include tropical storms and hurricanes, coastal flooding and erosion, rip currents, Sargassum influxes as well as oil spills among others. With the majority of our population and economic activity located in the coastal zone, ocean hazards pose a great threat to the country’s social and economic structure. Multiple institutions are involved in developing and implementing early warning systems, mitigation measures as well as co-ordinating disaster response at the local, regional, national and international levels therefore requiring an integrated and coordinated approach.

The overarching framework for coastal management in Trinidad and Tobago is the Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) Policy Framework 2020. Objective 3 of the Policy Framework seeks to plan and manage development in the coastal zone to avoid increasing exposure of people, property and economic activities to significant risk from natural and anthropogenic impacts including climate change. Climate change has already had a profound effect on ocean ecosystems through both ocean warming and acidification. However, the greatest direct threat to human settlement and activity is expected to result from sea level rise through coastal flooding.

Global projections of sea level rise estimate an increase of at least 12 inches or 0.3 metres above 2000 levels by 2100, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While increases in sea level will vary from one location to another, for small island states such as ours, where land is limited in supply and coastal space is in high demand and of high value, the use of coastal and marine space requires careful consideration. Key socio-economic infrastructure such as ports require a coastal location, as well as infrastructure to support the tourism, fisheries and oil and gas sectors. However, a plethora of non-coastal dependent infrastructure is located in the country’s coastal zone, resulting in both the inefficient use of coastal space and increasing the risk of exposure to ocean hazards.

The ICZM Policy Framework 2020 also seeks to plan and manage development in the coastal zone to be in harmony with the aesthetic, environmental and cultural attributes of the islands. Strategies to achieve this objective include controlling the sitting of infrastructure in the coastal zone and determining adequate setback and buffer zones along the coast. Coastal setbacks are demarcated areas along the coast where all or certain types of development are prohibited. It is a management tool used globally to protect both the environment and coastal structures however, coastal setbacks are currently implemented in an ad hoc manner in Trinidad and Tobago.

The ICZM Policy Framework 2020 when approved and operationalised through its implementing instrument the ICZM Action Plan 2021 -2030, will promote the use of a number of management tools to reduce the impact of ocean hazards, including the legislating of coastal setbacks and building codes for coastal infrastructure and encourage the use of marine spatial planning. Planning for the management of ocean hazards requires data and a centralised coastal information management system, the development of which is already underway through the collective efforts of state institutions.

The period of implementation of the ICZM Action Plan, 2021 -2030, not only coincides with the Ocean Decade, but the Action Plan also supports all of its Outcomes, and as described in particular Outcome 5 – A safe ocean. The Ocean Decade seeks to increase global ocean observation and data systems and measure its cumulative impacts for effective solutions to reduce vulnerability to ocean hazards. Achieving Outcome 5 largely depends on our individual and collective decisions, to use ocean science to inform our response to ocean-related hazards. Public advisories and information on ocean-related hazards can be accessed online through the Trinidad and Tobago Meteorological Office, the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Management as well as the Institute of Marine Affairs.