Sun | Sep 23, 2018

Enforcement vital to Jamaica’s ocean health commitments

Published:Thursday | June 22, 2017 | 12:02 AMPetre Williams-Raynor
Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith speaks at the UN Ocean Conference.
Dr Dayne Buddo with Dr Sylvia Earle, marine biologist and world explorer at the UN Ocean Conference in New York recently.
Suzanne Stanley
Diana McCaulay

WITH THE ocean's goods and services valued at up to US$21 trillion globally, a focus its health is more than the next big thing in development and requires the effective enforcement of legislation if it is to be preserved.

This appears to be the consensus among local stakeholders, including scientists and civil society players, who reflected this past week on outcomes from the recent United Nations Ocean Conference and, in particular, on Jamaica's own voluntary commitments.

The island's commitments, as articulated by Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Minister Kamina Johnson Smith at the conference held in New York between June 5 and 9, and included on the UN Ocean Conference website are:

- the expansion of maritime area declared as marine protected area (MPA) under national legislation; and

- Strengthening national policy and legislative frameworks governing protected areas, including MPAs.

- On the first, marine biologist Dr Dayne Buddo, who participated in the conference, said: "This is a good step. We need to be bold with this though, and increase those MPAs that are no-take zones (fish sanctuaries)."

"The situation is very bad for many years now, so a light superficial action will not work. We need to give the marine life a good chance to recover and provide the ecological services that we depend on. Protect more, and protect it now, with effective management," he noted.

On the second, Buddo said it, too, is a good step "especially if it means increasing fines and penalties for breaches. The laws are there, but enforcement has been a real issue."

Deputy chief executive officer (CEO) for the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) Suzanne Stanley was in agreement on the need for enforcement.

"As with any such commitments, it is about implementation; not just saying you're going to do something and putting it on paper, but actually doing it. Too many things are committed to on paper and never implemented in a meaningful way," she told The Gleaner.

JET's CEO Diana McCaulay also weighed in on the need for enforcement.

"The problem in Jamaica is largely a lack of enforcement by the state so even if marine protected areas were expanded and policies and laws strengthened, on current experience and crossing both administrations, there is entirely insufficient enforcement," she said.

"JET has painstakingly documented these failures over more than two decades and there has been little improvement. There simply is no real commitment at the political level to the environmental laws in Jamaica," she added.

Meanwhile, the value of oceans go well beyond its estimated contribution to global GDP "on the order of some US$1.5 to US$3 trillion annually, or roughly three to five per cent", according to the 2016 World Bank report Toward a Blue Economy: A Promise for Sustainable Growth in the Caribbean.

They extend, the report said, to "a number of tangible services provided by the ocean's ecosystems ... for which markets do not exist, but yet are critical pieces of the global ocean economy for example, carbon sequestration, coastal protection, waste disposal, and the existence of biodiversity".

Still, despite its tremendous value including the response to climate change that threatens, among other things, more extreme weather events the ocean is under significant stress.

"Overfishing costs the world about US$83 billion each year. Globally, 2,000,000 tonnes of sewage, agricultural and industrial wastes enters waterways daily. The volume of plastic in the ocean is projected to exceed the volume of fish by 2050. Surface layer of the ocean has become about 30 per cent more acidic (0.1 pH units) in the last century," revealed Chris Corbin, programme officer for pollution and communications with UN Environment Caribbean Environment Programme, citing statistics from the UN Development Programme, the World Economic Forum 2016 and his own organisation.

"To sustain and explore new development opportunities from oceans we have to control impacts of climate change, habitat degradation, overfishing and marine pollution," he emphasised.

For him, in addition to enforcement, effective communication and cooperation are critical.

"In an era of social media and an overload of real and fake news, both communicators and scientists need to work more closely together to ensure messages are accurate and effective," he noted.