Protect the oceans to protect food security

An aerial view of islands in Palau in this undated photo. REUTERS/Jackson Henry

An aerial view of islands in Palau in this undated photo. REUTERS/Jackson Henry

Investing in marine protection can create huge returns, for people and nature

Surangel Whipps Jr. is the president of Palau.

The most important summit most people have never heard of will happen this December in Montreal, Canada.

At the Conference of the Parties (COP15) of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, the world’s countries aim to agree to a once-in-a-decade global deal to halt the runaway destruction of the natural world.

This crisis is so serious that it threatens the world's clean air and drinking water, crops, the survival of key species, our ability to protect ourselves from floods and catastrophic wildfires, and the prosperity of our communities - 55% of global GDP depends on high-functioning biodiversity and ecosystem services.

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One of the cornerstones of this deal is how much space humanity is willing to conserve for nature to thrive. Today, only 16% of the land and 8% of the ocean are in protected areas such as national parks or marine reserves. The rest is exploited by humans — and much of it in an unsustainable way.

Are we on the right path?

There is scientific evidence that suggests that if we are to avoid the collapse of our natural support system and consequently a global humanitarian crisis, we need half of the planet in its natural state.

Palau, together with about 110 other nations, have joined forces to get a milestone target agreed by all the countries in Montreal to protect at least 30% of our planet – land and sea – by 2030 (30 x 30). Palau has demonstrated steady progress toward this target for more than a decade and we are not asking any more from others than we ourselves have committed to doing.

Some argue that we cannot protect more of the ocean, because we need to feed a growing human population. This Convention fully recognizes that biological diversity is about more than protecting biodiversity of the land and ocean but also about people and our need for food, water and a healthy environment to live.

Our global progress toward 30X30 will be in vain if we continue the trend of destructive and unsustainable practices in the remaining 70%.

Therefore, our urgent move toward this ambitious target must be complemented by tandem and equally ambitious strategies to transition to more responsible fisheries and more effective fisheries management, to allow for fish stocks to rebuild close to their former abundance.

Palau is now embarking on a marine spatial planning process that aims to converge these two complementary strategies of strictly protecting the right places and transitioning to more sustainable and responsible fisheries practices. Palau has committed to this dual approach towards 100% management of our ocean.

Palau's marine protected areas (MPAs) aim to protect marine biodiversity with the knowledge that the return of marine life would benefit our people.

And our minister of finance would tell you that these strategic investments in MPAs and sustainable fisheries are investment accounts that grow with compounding interest, producing returns we can enjoy.

Scientists have shown that natural capital returns improve fisheries catch and profitability, in species from small to large.

Palau's push for 30x30 is not just love for the unique natural habitats of our country. It is because it makes sense for our people and for all of humanity.

At COP15, we fear some countries will try to dilute the protection target for the ocean. But from what we've seen in Palau and in other countries it is clear that if we want to ensure food security and economic prosperity for our people, we need to protect at least 30% of our ocean, in the right areas, so they can become an engine of regeneration for the rest of the ocean.

Therefore, we urge other governments worldwide to urgently support this critical global 30x30 target — on land and in the sea — so that all of humanity has a prosperous future on a healthy planet.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


  • Adaptation
  • Loss and damage
  • Biodiversity

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