By Rémi Parmentier & Kelly Rigg

As the month of March draws to a close, we continue to hear ocean advocates refer to 2021 as a super year for the ocean – a year for taking bold international decisions to reverse the trend of marine biodiversity loss. Of course, that’s what 2020 was supposed to be, before it was stymied by the global pandemic which led to the cancellation or postponement of a line-up of potentially game-changing events.

Despite the fervent wishes of everyone involved in protecting marine biodiversity, however, it remains to be seen whether key meetings will take place this year either: the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) in Kunming, China; the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland; as well as the fourth (and hopefully final) session of the parties negotiating a binding agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity in the high seas (BBNJ) or the 40th Meeting of the Parties to the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR).

What is certain is that the degradation of ocean ecosystems did not take a timeout while the world turned its attention to the COVID-19 crisis, and that action is needed if we want the degradation to stop.

As the saying goes, with every crisis comes an opportunity. For us, forced confinement provided a unique chance to do some “blue skies” thinking about new approaches to policy to protect the ocean. In a paper titled ‘Blue Food for Thought,’ which the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation features on the website of 2021 Monaco Ocean Week, we dive into the following issues:

  • Marine Exploitable Areas: An alternative approach to Marine Protected Areas, making marine life and habitat protection the rule rather than the exception, at least in the high seas, thus shifting the burden of proof so that unless the proponent of an ocean space or ocean resource use can show that it has no lasting irreversible negative impact, it cannot go ahead;
  • Numerical management: Fundamental reform of the management and conservation of large fish species and populations, replacing weight-based catch limits with quotas set by number of individual fish, affording more control over the size and age of fish caught and helping maintain population sizes;
  • Subsidies Elimination and Fishing fleets Disarmament Agreements: Financing sustainable development and the replenishment of marine life through fisheries Subsidies Elimination Agreements (SEAs) which would serve to re-channel government harmful fisheries subsidies, not only at the multilateral level in the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO), but also bilaterally or regionally among competing countries that are chasing the same fish; and
  • Isolation of plastic litter from the Biosphere: Just as we do with operational management of radioactive wastes, containing and isolating solid plastic wastes to avoid their dispersion and dilution into the environment in the form of micro-particles which enter the marine food chain.

The 2021 Monaco Ocean Week that took place online earlier this month is the kind of forum needed to explore fresh and bold new ideas for protecting the ocean, because business-as-usual is clearly insufficient. Feedback we have received from stakeholders who have read ‘Blue Food for Thought’ is encouraging. The future will tell to what extent it is possible to go beyond the current status quo and explore new pathways to sustainable development.

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the first UN Conference on the Human Environment to which the genesis of the modern environmental movement can be traced. The contemporary environmental laws and multilateral regulations that stemmed from Stockholm 1972 created a safety net that led to a halt of egregious practices such as the dumping at sea of radioactive waste and other toxic pollutants. The passage of those regulations were exciting, revolutionary times in which we had the privilege of taking part. It required fearless activists and the support of visionaries working at or with the highest levels of government willing to put aside political differences to achieve a common good.

And while the ocean has continued to degrade for other reasons since then, the activists who agitated for change and the officials who listened to them at the very least bought time by limiting or delaying environmental damage.

Advancing the ideas discussed in this essay would similarly demand an uncommon degree of international cooperation, conviction, and perseverance. It’s fair to ask whether this is even possible in today’s increasingly polarized world. But by offering some new visionary solutions to some of the most intractable problems facing the ocean, we hope to help inspire a new generation of activists to demand change.

It is in this spirit that we’re offering our ideas, and we look forward to hearing yours.

The authors of this guest article, Rémi Parmentier and Kelly Rigg, have been ocean advocates for 45 years. They form the Varda Group for Environment and Sustainability. Follow them on Twitter: @RemiParmentier @kellyrigg

Click here to download the full paper, ‘Blue Food for Thought,’ in PDF format.