The following statement was released by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Executive Director for Marine Conservation Simon Cripps, from the Convention on Biological Diversity CoP15:

“At CBD CoP15, the countries of the world must act together and individually to reverse the terrifying decline in the biodiversity of our oceans and put the world on track to sustainability, health and social equity.

“The goals and targets to be adopted in Montreal are critical to help save our planet and with that safeguard our own future, including in particular, targets on area-based protection and conservation (“30x30”); retention, protection, and restoration of ecological integrity; a focus on threatened ecosystems such as coral reefs; and ensuring that any use of wildlife, including fisheries, is sustainable, legal, equitable, and recognizes and respects the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and other international human rights instruments.

“WCS is seeking a range of ocean commitments in the global biodiversity framework including the adoption of critical indicators of success (such as live coral cover) and a way to measure them accurately; an acknowledgment that the 30% has a quality as well and quantity element to protect the most important and threatened ecosystems such as coral reefs and important species such as sharks and rays; to prioritise the retention and conservation of the ecological integrity of these ecosystems; and an equitable approach to protection that safeguards and values the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities.

“As I write, some nations are considering proposing watering down the global biodiversity framework as it relates to the oceans because they feel goals such as the 30% protection and conservation will be too hard to achieve at sea.  But if action is not taken now, it could become impossible in the future to conserve and protect what humanity needs to survive. There are indeed challenges such as the lack of a relevant legal framework for 50% of the planet that is beyond national jurisdiction – the high seas—which is being negotiated. We must though stay committed to saving our oceans, their species and our own future. 

“Recognizing the inadequate implementation and failure in some cases of the so-called Aichi targets (the goals and targets adopted for 2010-2020), which amongst other things set a goal for 10% of the oceans to be protected and conserved, governments, through science, their own observations and the pleas of coastal communities now realise that at least 30% of the world needs protection from a range of threats. Currently we are sitting at about 7% designated protection in the ocean, with only half of that managed in any way effectively. Even with this minimal level of protection, and ongoing industrial-scale and often subsidised over-exploitation of ocean resources, we are looking at a planet in freefall decline. 

“The evidence is clear to see in front of our eyes, the impending extinction of many sharks and rays, coral reefs succumbing to climate change, and many if not most fisheries fished beyond their ability to replenish. These declines are occurring at the current lower level of protection indicating that greater protection is required.  Governments must keep true to the ambition of conserving and protecting at least 30% in the global biodiversity framework, along with associated targets that ensure ecological integrity and connectivity, equity, conservation in areas of high biodiversity importance, along with innovative ways to achieve the target. In order to motivate that innovation, the target is vital.

“Governments must not only speak about ambition but must show it, if we are to restore the health of countless ecosystems, habitats and species from coral reefs threatened by climate change and over-exploitation to deep sea plains threatened by mining.

“Imagine a world with healthy, productive seas, species in balance with their sustainable, legal and equitable use by people, an end to the threat to species of extinction, and blue economies prospering around the world. An ambition to protect and conserve at least 30% isn’t a cost or a burden, it’s an investment in our future. 

“These calls are central to WCS’s mission of saving wildlife and wild places.  Not only are at least a 30% goal and a strong biodiversity framework both technically possible and vital to safeguard our future, they are needed now before it is truly too late.”