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Oceans – The Last Frontier for OECS States

As the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) celebrates 40 Years of Integration for Progress and Sustainability, the ocean is being touted as “the last and best hope for a prosperous and sustainable future for Member States.”

So says Chamberlain Emmanuel, Head of the Environmental Sustainability Division at the OECS Commission. Addressing a Mapping Ocean Wealth virtual seminar to mark June 8 as World Oceans Day, Emmanuel said the OECS has been at the forefront of championing the Blue Economy approach in the region. He cited the formulation of the St. George’s Declaration of Principles for Environmental Sustainability in 2001, the adoption of the Eastern Caribbean Regional Policy (ECROP) in 2013, and the launch of the Caribbean Regional Oceanscape Project (CROP) in 2017, as “significant milestones in our journey towards effective ocean governance and sustainable ocean economies.”

Emmanuel credited regional and global partners for helping the OECS on the journey to transitioning to a Blue Economy. He said: “With support from the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Norway, The Nature Conservancy, The Commonwealth Secretariat, the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute, and other key regional and international collaborators, we are strengthening the capacity of our Member States in the areas of ocean governance and marine spatial planning, and we are enhancing the enabling environment in support of a Blue Economy.”

Emmanuel surmised that the Mapping Ocean Wealth Seminar provided an ideal forum “to showcase, share, and strengthen our knowledge and capacity to manage and explore the untapped possibilities of our vast ocean space, and to further the process of making the shift from Small Island States, to embracing our potential as large ocean economies, supporting life and livelihoods.”

World Bank Senior Environmental Specialist and Task Team Leader for the CROP – Sylvia Michele Diez, commended the OECS for having made great strides in strengthening Blue Economy knowledge and analytics in the region. She singled-out the OECS as a Blue Economy model to other regions. She underscored that The World Bank has been a longstanding partner of the OECS on the Blue Economy. Diez characterized the natural assets in the coastal and marine environment in the OECS as major drivers of growth in terms of revenue, jobs, food security, and coastal resilience.

Speaking directly to the relevance of the Mapping Ocean Wealth initiative, Diez said some of the innovation and science that The Nature Conservancy (TNC) has developed for the OECS, give a better understanding of the seascape, and will guide the expansion of ocean activities in a way that is more responsible and sustainable. Diez says it is critical to expand ocean data because in the absence of data, it becomes extremely difficult for countries to manage oceans, formulate policies, and minimize negative impacts. The Mapping Ocean Wealth seminar discussed ocean mapping data, tools, maps and models which make ocean science more accessible to policy makers at the national and regional level, and give a better understanding of the true value of the coastal environment.

Director of The Nature Conservancy in the Eastern Caribbean – Dr. Sherry Constantine, described the work undertaken by TNC for the OECS as transformative and designed to advance marine spatial planning and Blue Economy initiatives in the region. TNC’s work includes the production of several maps downscaled to the country level, including maps of coral reefs for recreation and tourism; coral reefs for fisheries value; distribution and value of recreational fisheries; and nature dependent tourism.

Among the findings is that Coral Reefs in the five CROP participating countries attract 143,100 visitors and generate US$118.3 million in revenue annually. Nature dependent beaches in the five countries generate US$318 million per annum. Whale and Dolphin watching in Dominica, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines generate US$6.2 million annually. Given these statistics, OECS States were asked to carefully balance coastal development and conservation and to weigh the ‘opportunity cost’ of ‘losing nature’ to ‘development.’ Globally, coral reefs generate US$36 billion in revenue annually.

The virtual seminar was attended by marine and coastal planners and data managers, representatives from various sectors including fisheries, environment, blue economy, green economy, as well as tourism stakeholders in the OECS. Global and regional partners collaborating with the OECS on various Blue Economy initiatives also attended the virtual seminar which was held under the theme for World Oceans Day 2021, ‘life and livelihoods.’

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