EBSA, on the agenda at the global biodiversity conference

15 December 2016, CBD COP13, Cancun Mexico - There's a buzz-acronym at the global biodiversity talks that is heard often, it helps the 198 Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity meet their obligation to halt global biodiversity loss.

EBSA1
EBSA which stands for Ecologically or Biologically Significant Marine Areas in open-ocean waters and deep sea habitats, that help to support the healthy functioning of oceans and the wide range of services the ocean provides. They are also recommended areas for protection which is to be implemented by the country party to the CBD.

"Identification of the sites involve a rigorous scientific process with input from traditional knowledge and allows the design of effective management measures to ensure the sustainability of ocean and resources," said Mr Alfred Ralifo, speaking as a Pacific islander with vast experience working on ocean policies, he is currently attending the Thirteenth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP13).

"It also provides us with the status of our ocean which inform these management plans and the decision making process, information pertained under an internationally recognised process and will contribute to sustainable development as well as meet Aichi Target 11 on Protected Areas."

In 2008 the following criteria was agreed to as those that EBSA sites must contain; Uniqueness or Rarity; Special importance for life history stages of species; Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats; Vulnerability, Fragility, Sensitivity, or Slow recovery; Biological Productivity Biological Diversity; and Naturalness.

The CBD COP13 now underway in Cancun, Mexico, are negotiating the next steps for this work including the possibility of updating the EBSA criteria and the review system linked with this. Pacific island parties would like to ensure that the EBSA selection remains scientifically sound, includes peer review as well as up-to-date data for any modification.

Oceans cover 70% of our plants surface, for the Pacific islands the ocean area totals over 30 million square kilometres and within these there are over 20 areas that have been described as meeting the EBSA criteria.

One of these includes the Tongan archipelago, which includes the Tonga trench, the second deepest trench on earth, and 174 islands of which 37 are uninhabited, various seamounts, active hydrothermal venting sites and up to 700,000 kilometres2 of ocean.

The CBD recognises that the archipelago is the most important breeding location for Oceania's humpback whales, supports globally significant populations of eight seabird species, and hosts highly unique and diverse hydrothermal vent barnacle species.

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"Aichi Target 11 on protected areas is a key one that we in Tonga are working towards, so it's very important for us that we do ensure that there is a transparent process in place for parties when reviewing and modifying EBSAs, and that the previous work is archived," said Ms Atelaite Lupe Matoto Director for Environment, Ministry of Meteorology, Energy, Information, Disaster Management, Environment, Climate Change and Communications (MEIDECC) of Tonga.

"As it is now, Tonga is working on putting in place protected areas for the Vava'u islands within the Tonga archipelago. This consists of 65 islands for which a rapid biodiversity survey have reconfirmed that the largest of these along with a number of outlying islands still retain natural values and critical importance of the biodiversity, terrestrial and marine ecosystems."

"There is an urgent need for follow-up activities to manage and mitigate threats on 22 sites identified as priorities. Seven of these sites are awaiting to be gazetted as conservation areas, with different levels of protection."

The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), is helping Pacific islands enhance protected area management including technical assistance in delivering EBSA workshops.

A series of workshops have been conducted by the CBD with Governments and partners to facilitate the description of EBSA's using the set criteria.

SPREP and CSIRO partnered to produce the original EBSAs for the Western South Pacific in 2011 based on SPREP member country input.  For further information on EBSA sites in the Pacific please visit: https://www.cbd.int/marine/ebsa/booklet-01-wsp-en.pdf

The Pacific island parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity are the Pacific parties are the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Tonga and Vanuatu. - #PacificProtectedAreas

The CBD COP13 runs from 4 – 17 December, 2016 in Cancun, Mexico.
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