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Colombia's "Blue Agenda"

January 13, 2013

The Ocean Health Index launched in Nature magazine on August 15, 2012, featuring the first comprehensive assessment of ocean health and scores for every country in the world with a coast.

Early the next morning, in Bogota, Colombia, a headline in the major paper El Tiempo blared out:  “Colombia Fails on Oceans” (“Colombia se raja en conservacion de mares”).  Within the hour, a scientist with the Colombian government called a member of the Index team to ask:  “what the heck is this?”  

In fact, Colombia’s score of 52 out of 100 is not too far under the world average of 60.  The headline was also off in ascribing a pass/fail—that’s not how the Ocean Health Index works. Nevertheless, it was understandable that this headline was met with considerable concern by Colombian government and marine research institutions.  

In response, the Presidential Agency for International Collaboration of Colombia invited the Ocean Health Index team to discuss Colombia’s scores and hear more about the methodology behind the Ocean Health Index.   Juan Gabriel Uribe, Colombia’s Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, chaired the meeting, which some 15 departments from five different ministries and national NGOs attended, including government agencies responsible for the national parks and Navy, oil and gas research institute INVEMAR, as well as non-governmental organizations such as Coralina, Fundacion Malpelo, MarViva, and Conservation International.    

A room full of Ministers and Directors who care deeply about the health of their aquatic environments sat for two hours meticulously combing through the results of the Index, and outlining steps that need to be taken as a result.  The room was buzzing with comments like:  “how can we contribute better data to global databases?”  “We have a lack of research on the Pacific coast – who is working on this?” “Agencies need to work together on the management of the oceans.”

The questions and suggestions broached at the meeting revolved around these themes:  

(1)  Policies and actions required to improve the health of our environment often span the mandates of multiple government agencies, which may vary in their priorities and approach to policy.  For this reason, it is desirable that an Index is relevant to all agencies with  mandates over the policies and actions needed to improve Index scores.  

(2)  The Index's new paradigm of considering humans as part of marine ecosystems and framing ocean health as the ability of oceans to sustainably provide benefits to people resonated with policy makers in Colombia because it allows them to simultaneously address three aspects of sustainable development--economic development, social well-being and environmental quality.

The meeting culminated in the launch of a ‘Blue Agenda’ or ‘Agenda Azul’ for Colombia, focusing its efforts towards the sea.  This Blue Agenda includes drawing on the goals of the Ocean Health Index to identify priority actions through collaboration between a range of government agencies, research institutes and non-governmental organizations. 

The initiative supports jobs, food, clean water, carbon storage and biodiversity - all essential to meeting the needs of our growing population and also supportive of a thriving ocean.

The initial surprise and dismay by members of the Colombian government led to dialogue and discourse about the management of the ocean to best benefit Colombians. The Index’s suite of 10 goals proved a useful conceptual platform for Colombia’s policy makers to use in analysis and decision making.  

Ironically, one newspaper’s somewhat inaccurate headline created a real opportunity to discuss how to take care of precious marine resources.

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