Earth Today | EFJ official bats for ocean health, benefits
CHIEF TECHNICAL director for the Environmental Foundation of Jamaica (EFJ) Allison Rangolan McFarlane has thrown her own weight behind the need to tap into the ocean as an essential development resource and one that is vital to climate change resilience.
"Over time, we have explored more of our oceans and now that we have a better understanding of them, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to place greater focus on them for multiple reasons," McFarlane, who holds a master's degree in marine biology, told The Gleaner.
One of those reasons is climate change, which is held as perhaps the most significant threat to small-island developing states such as Jamaica.
"Increasing temperatures, changes in storm patterns and precipitation, altered ocean currents and acidification are all related to climate change and are all impacting our oceans. Coral reefs, for example, are important for many reasons. They provide habitat for fish and other sea creatures which are economically and socially important to humans and to ocean ecosystems, and they provide coastal protection by reducing the impact of waves and storm surge on coastlines, etc," McFarlane said.
"However, the increased temperatures due to climate change are threatening the survival of our reefs as the instances of coral bleaching increase as well as the susceptibility of the corals to disease. Like our terrestrial forests, the ocean also absorbs carbon dioxide. However, because there has been so much more carbon to be absorbed in recent years, the ocean is now becoming more acidic (acidification) and this also has a negative impact on the structural integrity of coral reefs. This means that they are less able to provide protection and food and other resources," she added.
Her comments come in the wake of the UN Ocean Conference held in New York in June and from which has emerged a call for action, including for global collaboration and the infusion of additional financial resources for, among other things, research and better management - all in the interest of the ocean's health and the myriad benefits to be derived from it.
World bank study
The World Bank's 2016 study 'Toward a Blue Economy: A Promise for Sustainable Growth in the Caribbean' notes that "perhaps nowhere is the ocean economy", worth some $21 trillion globally, "more relevant than in the Caribbean Sea, where many states and territories are defined by the ocean".
"The Caribbean Sea covers less than one per cent of the world's ocean area (2.75 million square kilometres), nonetheless, it directly supports the economies of 37 coastal and small island countries and territories. This natural resource, if well managed, has the potential to make a much greater contribution to poverty reduction and shared prosperity for the region's growing island population of 40 million, as well as increasing their resilience to climate change," predicts the report authored by Pawan Patil and four others.
"The ocean may indeed be the frontier for growth for these economies in the coming decades, as countries look to the Caribbean Sea for new sources of food, energy, and jobs while diversifying their economies to reduce reliance on a limited number of key exports," it added.
Meanwhile, McFarlane said Jamaica has its work cut out for the island, on the road to accessing the benefits, including to address the need for resources.
"One of the biggest challenges that we face is the need for more resources. The number of Special Fishery Conservation Areas (formerly Marine Protected Areas), for example, has increased from 10 in 2010 to 14 in 2013 with another three identified for approval at that time and we now have 17 ... However, a number of these areas do not have the necessary resources to enable effective management. This needs to be addressed," McFarlane noted.
Need for research
There is also much to be said about the need for research.
"A tremendous amount of research has already been done. However, there is still a lot that we do not know and understand. While we continue to collect additional information, we must analyse and apply the existing information to the sustainable management and use of our oceans. We have arrived at a point where science should not sit on a shelf or in a library. The results should be applied sustainably," she added.
At the same time, she cautioned against doing research in isolation.
"Silos between academic research and real-world application should no longer exist. The gaps need to be bridged and appropriate innovation should be applied. Science has an essential role to play in evidence-based decision-making. And just as scientists should work to ensure the applicability of research, decision-makers should recognise its importance and carefully consider and apply the relevant information during decision-making processes. Collaboration is essential in charting the way forward," McFarlane said.
In this, her sentiments reflect those of another marine biologist, Dr Dayne Buddo, who was a member of the Jamaica delegation to the UN Ocean Conference.
"The oceans and seas and the corresponding issues do not recognise the political boundaries that we have drawn. In small island developing states, this is even more important. The opportunity for ocean science here in this region is having a regional university in the University of the West Indies. Scientific research agendas should include a more regional focus, as we are all connected by the ocean," he told The Gleaner recently.
Meanwhile, McFarlane said the EFJ is prepared to play its own role.
"To date, EFJ has provided funding for at least 41 projects and/or programmes impacting coastal/marine areas valued at approximately J$143M. The activities range from monitoring activities and baseline surveys to restoration of mangroves, reduction of point-source pollutants, enhancing fish habitat and coral reef restoration, to various educational programmes and public education activities," she said.
"We will continue to support activities that will contribute achieving the sustainable development goals and we will continue to seek additional funding to enhance the resources available to our grantees and members to achieve same," she added.