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Spotlight on the Nairobi Convention Meetings


The Seventh Conference of the Parties to the Nairobi Convention (COP7) met recently in Maputo, Mozambique with the goal of digging deep into ocean health and management. 

Eighty-five people representing ten different Indian Ocean countries met to find ways to work together on the health of their shared marine resource, the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is the third largest of the world’s five oceans, a vast and strategically located body of water that connects Africa, Asia and Australia. The region faces many challenges: large oil reserves are being tapped in this region in the offshore areas of Saudi Arabia, Iran, India and western Australia, and many more discoveries of oil and gas reserves have been made.

In addition, the region's fisheries are under a lot of pressure from foreign fleets travelling from as far as Russia, the European Union, Japan, South Korean and Taiwan (Province of China).  

Under these and other pressures, identifying ways to assess ocean health and protect marine resources was the theme of the four-day Nairobi Convention meetings. Dr. David Obura of CORDIO and Ando Rabearisoa of Conservation International took the opportunity to present the Ocean Health Index as a way to measure the health of the region's ocean, track different goals, and identify areas in need of action. The Index spans the globe, but also offers the flexibility of being scaled to local use, with local data, by local experts who know their regions best.  Since the Index is crafted to be objective and data-driven, it might be the right measuring tool at the right time in the right place.

Dr. David Obura is a leading scientist in the region, and the author of more than 100 publications.  He specializes in research on regional biogeographic patterns, coral bleaching, and the impact of climate change and human interactions on the environment. Obura is a Director of CORDIO, a group of marine scientists who collaborate on research targeted at mitigating the widespread damage to corral reefs in the Indian Ocean region.   

Dr. Obura and Ando Rabearisoa first introduced the Ocean Health Index in August, shortly after its publication in Nature on August 15, 2012. We caught up with them just after their presentation on December 10-11 to a larger group of policy-makers, scientists and NGOs at the "Science for Policy" workshop that preceded the Seventh Conference of the Parties to the Nairobi Convention.

Dr. David Obura, Ando Rabearisoa and Dr. Julius Francis, Executive Secretary of the West Indian Ocean Marine Science Association.

What was the reaction to the Ocean Health Index?

David:  As I thought, we faced some of the same questions we heard in August —questions about how to handle the reference point for the wild capture fisheries, the fact that data is poor for Tourism and Recreation for which the global score calculations don’t match the situation on the ground in the countries. The Regional Index will do better, with the possibility of adjusting how indices are calculated, and weighting of the goals is important for the region.  We also presented some of the country-specific results of the ten West Indian Ocean countries, and people were very interested in that. 

Overall, the region scored “56,” which is slightly below the global score of “60.” The Republic of Seychelles, Tanzania and Mauritius equal or exceed the global score; the other seven —Mauritius, Mozambique, French Indian Ocean Territories, Kenya, South Africa, Madagascar, Comoros and Somalia— fell somewhat below that with scores ranging from 47 to 60.

Ando:  I think the challenge is for the Nairobi Convention to develop an identity for the West Indian Ocean area in the global context--what is unique about this area, what are the most important resources to protect? Many initiatives are arising in the region to enhance marine resources management. David presented the UNESCO report on identifying new World Heritage sites in the West Indian Ocean (“Assessing Marine World Heritage from an Ecosystem Perspective:  The Western Indian Ocean,” 2012) Everyone is talking about this.  WWF (World Wildlife Fund) presented the concept of "Transfrontier Conservation Area." The Indian Ocean Commission (IOC) is trying to implement corridors. The Ocean Health Index supports all these initiatives well.  It's very important for the people living in the region to assess, where is the wealth of the region and how is it being used.  

Why is the Ocean Health Index useful in the West Indian Ocean region?  

David:  I think it is a step forward to have a discussion on common terms—even if there is discomfort over what data set to use, and over the resulting country scores. The Index helps us to have a discussion about what is happening in the region, to start from a baseline, and be constrained to specific topics, rather than debating all aspects of ocean health. Now we can plan on developing better data sets, to get involvement from scientists and countries in the region. Most interesting will be when future index calculations can generate time-series, to show where countries or subregions are improving, or not, in managing the health of their EEZs. 

In the region here, we have to focus on people—so the Livelihoods and Economies goal is quite important. So is Food Provision. Our fisheries are declining, our population is increasing population, and migrant fishermen are moving larger distances and competing for declining resources. 


Fisherman using hand net in Vohemar on the northeast coast of Madagascar.

What are the next steps?

Ando:  What was interesting is that inside the Nairobi Convention there are protocols that are developed by the Secretariat and adopted by countries. These protocols are on ICZM and LBSA, but until now, there is no specific metrics to monitor the impact of these protocols on the ocean, coral reefs and the like when implemented. I think the Ocean Health Index can be the starting point of stimulating the development of metrics to monitor the effects of these protocols. 

David: Following this meeting, we have sufficient endorsement from the countries to do a regionally-focused application of the Ocean Health Index for the Nairobi Convention region in 2013-14. This will allow an assessment of the usefulness of the Index for the countries of the Nairobi Convention region to assess the health of their EEZs, inform future management, and increase the sustainability of ocean benefits to its people. The Ocean Health Index also provides metrics for success.