It’s been an eventful year for marine conservation with many steps forward on sustainable development commitments and better management of our oceans. As 2015 quickly draws to a close, here’s a small recap of some of the year’s biggest success stories and actions we can expect to hear more about in the future:
1. UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on Oceans
A post-2030 agenda on sustainable development (successor to the UN’s Millennium Development Goals) now includes an emphasis on oceans. Some of the goals set by SDG 14 build on 2020 targets to conserve coastal and marine areas, and sustainably use and effectively regulate illegal, unrecorded, unregulated fishing.
2. Creation of 2.25 million km2 of Ocean Sanctuaries in the Pacific and Americas
Thanks to ambitious commitments from countries like Chile, New Zealand, Britain and Palau, this year marks the creation of some 869,000 mi2 of ocean marine parks – that’s over 1.5 times the land area of Alaska.
According to the World Wildlife Fund’s, ‘Living Blue Planet Report’, also released this year, less than 4% of the world’s oceans are protected as marine reserves – a pressing reminder of countries’ agreement under the Aichi Biodiversity Target to protect 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020.
3. US Federal Government Announced its Plan on Combating Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing (IUU)
As part of its Action Plan released earlier this year, the US government announced its intention to strengthen traceability and tracking programs of illegal seafood together with international partners.
In November, the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act (2015) was signed into law by President Obama signaling major progress on combating illegal fishing worldwide.
4. Landmark Injunction Against Japan’s Hunting of Whales in Australia
In a decision from the Federal Court of Australia this November, Japanese whaling company, Kyodo Senpaku Kaisha, was fined AUS$1 million for contempt of court on account of four separate violations of whale captures within Australia’s Whale Sanctuary.
The sanctuary, which includes parts of Australia’s territorial claim to Antarctica under international law, is highly controversial due to its un-recognition by the Japanese. Japan’s new whaling program, which has issued special permits for the killing of 333 minke whales over the next 12 years, has already raised many concerns about the enforceability of this decision in the future.
5. Arctic Protected From Oil and Gas Drilling
President Obama announced a two-year restriction on drilling in the Arctic together with a proposal for nearly 12 million acres to be conserved as Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The decision follows some US$7 billion in oil exploration in the Arctic by oil company Shell and campaign efforts from environmental groups and “kayactivists” in the Northwest.
6. Great Barrier Reef to be Protected by New Laws Against Dredging
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef faced possible listing as a World Heritage Site in danger due to the environmental threat posed by seabed dredging disposal. In an effort to better protect the Reef, the Australian government enacted a regulation this June that prevents dredging disposal within the marine park. Fine sediments from dredging often lead to a clouding in water quality and negative impacts on coral reefs, fish, and seafloor habitats.
7. Breakthrough Settlement on US Navy’s Use of Marine Sonar & Impact on Marine Mammals
Following several years of marine sonar activities by the US Navy, a new settlement, which concludes in 2018, now sets limits on coastal areas of Southern California and Hawaii where naval training and testing were previously conducted. Marine sonar has often been cited as a likely cause of dolphin and whale strandings along many coastal areas.
8. EU to Phase Out Fishing Subsidies
Through financial assistance from its European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, EU policy will now focus on establishing sustainable fishing communities, better control and enforcement, and collection of scientific data as part of its funding capacity till 2020.
9. Countries Pledged To Create Legally Binding Agreement to Conserve Marine Life on High Seas
A new treaty protecting biodiversity in the high seas could be underway in the next 2 years. Building on country commitments from the 2012 Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, countries gathered at the start of this year to negotiate a new high seas agreement.
Protecting the high seas, or areas beyond country’s 200nm exclusive economic zone, is important for filling the gap on issues like better management and conservation of fisheries as a common resource.
10. ‘Because of the Ocean’ Declaration
22 countries announced their commitment to an oceans action plan during the UN climate change conference in Paris this year. The declaration, which aims to bring dedicated support and review of the SDG 14 targets, also emphasizes the need for a more scientific focus between climate change and oceans, as well as a plan for oceans within the current UN climate framework.
Follow Dominique on Twitter