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Putting the Ocean at the Heart of IUCN’s World Conservation Congress Agenda

10 days of debate and deliberation to address some of the world’s toughest conservation challenges

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Project AWARE News

I’ve recently returned from Honolulu, Hawaii, where I had the privilege of representing Project AWARE at the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Conservation Congress – 10 days of debate and deliberation to address some of the world’s toughest conservation challenges.

More than 100 resolutions and recommendations were considered by more than 1,300 government and NGO member organizations from 160 countries. With the ocean high on priority lists of many IUCN members this year, we worked to represent the voice of the scuba diving community and helped set the global conservation agenda for the next 4 years.

As an international non-government organization member of IUCN, the world’s oldest and largest environmental network, Project AWARE discussed the conservation challenges and opportunities facing sharks and rays, participated in solutions-focused, behaviour change-oriented discussions on marine debris, and discussed the opportunities and challenges of marine protected areas.

Image of Dr. Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, a member of IUCN Specialist Groups for both cetaceans and sharks
Dr. Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara

Key decisions included closure of domestic markets for elephant ivory, the urgency of protecting the high seas, the need to protect primary forests, no-go areas for industrial activities within protected areas and an official IUCN policy on biodiversity offsets. Among some of the most urgent actions needed closest to our causes – sharks and rays in peril and marine debris - the IUCN members called for:

  • Better conservation and management of the silky shark, the thresher sharks and mobula rays both through international trade controls under CITES and meaningful fishery management measures.
  • Regional approaches to tackle the global problem of marine debris focused on waste prevention and management of both land based and sea based marine debris.
  • Increases in marine protected area coverage for effective marine biodiversity conservation including new targets and levels of protections with the ultimate aim of creating a fully sustainable ocean at least 30% of which has no extractive activities.
  • Improvement in standards in ecotourism including science-based guideline development

In addition, members of the IUCN adopted the Hawai‘i Commitments, an innovative document entitled “Navigating the Planet Earth” that sets out the opportunities to meet key conservation challenges identified at the IUCN World Conservation Congress. The document addresses issues such as sustaining world food supplies, maintaining the health of the oceans, wildlife trafficking, engaging with the private sector, and building resilience to climate change.

The Congress has grown to be the world’s largest and most democratic recurring conservation event in the world, bringing the expertise and influence of its powerful membership to bear on the most pressing issues of the time. It has two parts:

  • The Forum: the largest knowledge marketplace for conservation and sustainable development science, practice and innovation with over 600 sessions – many, with a unique focus on the ocean.
  • The Members’ Assembly: where IUCN’s 1,300+ Member organisations collectively decide on actions to address the most pressing and often controversial conservation and sustainable development challenges. Through motions, Members influence future directions in the conservation community and seek international support for various conservation challenges. Past IUCN Congress motions and the resulting resolutions have been key to developing landmark treaties such as the UNESCO World Heritage Convention, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CDB), and CITES. 

As I head off with colleagues and partners to CITES CoP17 starting this Saturday 24th September, I am  energized by the IUCN’s support for controlling international trade in shark and ray species. The Congress was not only a unique opportunity, and an honour for us, to contribute to setting a global conservation agenda for the next 4 years but also an exhilarating, fast-paced experience of sharing our conservation knowledge and learning from colleagues working around the world. It is your support that fuels our work to conserve sharks and rays and tackle marine debris for a clean, healthy and abundant ocean.

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