Last week in Gothenburg, Sweden, OSPAR (the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic) met for its annual Commission, and we are sad to report that the outcome of it was a huge disappointment.
Generally recognized as one of the most effective regional sea conventions in the world, OSPAR has developed very comprehensive tools to ensure that human activities are carried out in step with the natural ecosystems of the North East Atlantic. In 2010, in Bergen, contracting parties created the first marine protected areas in the high seas and committed to adopt measures to protect threatened and/or declining species and habitats from pressures of human activities before 2013.
That’s why last week’s meeting came as such a shock. We witnessed a minority of countries block the entire process, and recommendations to protect 23 marine species including sea turtles, seabirds, whales, sharks and rays, as well as deep-sea habitats such as seamounts and hydrothermal vents, were suspended, despite being in the very last stages of adoption.
This was a slap in the face to the many environmental groups and observers to the meeting who had been offering technical support and drafting recommendations since 2010 to help push the process forward. Drawing on our long experience working on deep-sea ecosystems, Oceana drafted the recommendation for seamounts which – if adopted – could have encouraged countries from Spain to Iceland to protect those in their waters, and to collaborate internationally to reduce adverse impacts from fishing or mining activities in areas beyond national jurisdictions.
Now OSPAR is in a deadlock. An exceptional emergency meeting has been convened for this autumn to solve the pending issues. It is high time contracting parties revive the collaborative spirit of the past, when national priorities did care (a little) about the marine environment. How quickly things have changed.