New commission established to conserve African ocean resources

BENGUELA – The world’s first large marine ecosystem-based conservation commission to protect shared ocean resources has been agreed between Angola, Namibia and South Africa.

Following nearly two decades of cooperation between the three governments, the signing of the Benguela Current Convention has established the first large marine ecosystem commission in the world.

The Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem (BCLME) is an area of ocean stretching from Port Elizabeth in South Africa to the province of Cabinda in the north of Angola. It is regarded as one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth, and is also economically important, directly supporting more than $54 billion of activities per year.

Offshore oil and gas production, marine diamond mining, coastal tourism, commercial fishing and shipping are some of the most important activities that take place in the region.

At the heart of the Benguela Current Convention is the concept of the ecosystem approach: a long-term methodology that aims to maintain ecosystem goods and services for sustainable use, while recognizing that humans are an integral part of the process.

With the signing of the convention, the Benguela Current Commission now becomes a permanent institution through which Angola, Namibia and South Africa will collaborate in promoting the long-term conservation, protection, rehabilitation, enhancement and sustainable use of the BCLME.

The governments received support to set up the commission from a range of international organizations, including the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UNOPS.

Since 2008, UNOPS has provided project management and administration services to a GEF-funded project designed to restore depleted fisheries and reduce the degradation of coastal resources in the BCLME area.

The project has made an important contribution to the development of the Benguela Current Commission as a viable and strong intergovernmental institution.

Speaking at the signing of the convention, the UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative of Angola, Maria do Valle Ribeiro, congratulated the three countries, saying the commission is: "The ideal and most effective way to achieve the sustainable management of the Benguela Current Large Marine Ecosystem and ensure the sustainable future of the people who rely on it."

Ms Ribeiro commended the strong leadership demonstrated by the government ministers present at the signing ceremony, saying: "Every time you have met as the Benguela Current Commission Conference of Ministers since September 2010, you set the bar higher."

Her sentiments were echoed by the Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Global Environment Facility, Andre Laperriere, who said that holistic, adaptive management is essential to address increasing threats to complex coastal and marine environments:

"Sustainable management is not possible without a legal framework such as the one jointly put in place today by the governments of Angola, Namibia and South Africa," said Mr Laperriere.

"The leaders of these countries have clearly shown that it is possible and desirable to see political solutions based on scientific knowledge in order to reverse marine degradation and resource depletion."