From: Yojana Sharma, SciDevNet, More from this Affiliate
Published June 6, 2013 08:45 AM

Small island states told to build wider ocean expertise

With rising concern about ocean degradation and the sustainable use of ocean resources, small island states must build scientific expertise that goes beyond their national needs and that benefits the oceans generally, a meeting of UN scientific experts has heard.

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Small island developing states (SIDS) are the "custodians" of vast ocean spaces that are important for global food security, biodiversity, natural resources and carbon sequestration, and broader sustainable ocean policies will in turn enhance their own economic development, say experts.

Developing such policies will require a new approach to ocean resources that goes beyond the current focus on coastal development and fisheries in individual countries, and will require a significantly higher marine science capacity, the meeting, held last month (14-17 May) in New York, United States, heard.

"Most [small island] states have a territorial focus. More value must be put on the oceans around them," Patrick McConney a senior lecturer in marine resource management planning at the University of the West Indies, tells SciDev.Net.

The meeting noted a lack of ocean experts in SIDS, meaning there was insufficient expertise to strengthen their ocean policies.

Venugopalan Ittekkot, former director of the Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Ecology in Bremen, Germany, says: "There are still very few SIDS with a national ocean policy, and they need scientific advice to develop that".

Ittekkot carried out a survey on small island states' marine science capacity and marine technology transfer for UN scientific body the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), which was presented at the New York meeting. 

According to Ittekkot, most ocean-related programmes are focused on climate change impacts, but there is also a need for monitoring, mapping and management of ocean and coastal space.

Collaboration was a running theme at the meeting, with the consensus that small island states' ability to use marine technology will need to be enhanced through cooperation with each other and with other developing countries.

"[States] with 50,000 to 60,000 people cannot be expected to have a large team to manage their resources. In these cases, they will probably need to have programmes as a consortium with other countries nearby," Mitrasen Bhikajee, IOC director/deputy executive secretary tells SciDev.Net.

His country, Mauritius, is already collaborating on ocean policy initiatives with neighbouring Indian Ocean state the Seychelles.

But for countries to be able to receive and use marine technologies from other countries, they need to develop their capacity to use and to manage them, he says, adding that this is particularly the case in the Pacific.

Continue reading at SciDev.Net.

Island coast image via Shutterstock.

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