Statement by H.E. Dr. Mohamed Waheed, Healthy Oceans and Seas: Paving the Way towards a Sustainable Development Goal

Excellencies, Esteemed guests,
Dear friends,

I wish to thank the organisers most profoundly for inviting me to speak at this Special Event. I am truly delighted that we, as the international community at large, and in particular this distinguished group, have come to the point where we can finally talk about the implementation of a Sustainable Development Goal on Oceans & Seas. When we look back just a year that is not self-evident. Back then the question still was: Will there be a Sustainable Development Goal on Oceans & Seas at all? Thanks to our joint efforts over the past year, especially the leadership of the Small Island States, this question is now settled - Sustainable Oceans & Seas are firmly settled at the core of the new Sustainable Development Agenda, as a stand alone goal. Congratulations to all of us.

Dear friends,

While we should acknowledge this vital step, much of the path remains before us. Now is the time to look forward and ponder how to best reach our goal, Sustainable Oceans & Seas, taking into account all three, the Social, Environmental and Economic pillars of Sustainable Development. For Maldives, as for Palau, this includes commemorating our past. For the Maldives, Oceans and Seas are the livelihood of the people on which we have been dependent throughout our lives.

The Maldives is an archipelago of 1190 Islands with a geographical territory of 99 % sea and a mere 1% land.  Our people have been a fishing community for generations. Since the advent of tourism in 1972, we have relied on the beauty of our oceans and coral reefs for generating economic wealth. At the same time oceans have been our main mode of transport, and the marine resources account for our main guarantee of food security.

Our pole and line fishing tradition has been internationally recognized as sustainable. To this day, pole & line fishing is the backbone of our fisheries industry, ensuring high selectivity and low impact on the marine environment.

Sustainable, small scale fisheries contribute in manifold ways to the Post-2015 Agenda. Small-scale fisheries for example employ more than 90 percent of the world's fishermen, contributing significantly to poverty eradication, employment and providing decent work. Sustainable fisheries are also a vital contribution to long-term food security & healthy nutrition.

Fisheries provide 4.3 billion people with about 15% of their intake of animal protein, especially in developing countries. They also represent a source of micro-nutrients, which are often missing in the diet of the world's poorest. According to the most recent Report on the State of the Worlds Fisheries and Aquaculture, published by the FAO in 2012, the livelihoods of 660–820 million people, or about 10–12 percent of the world's population rely on these 2 sectors alone. An inter-agency report authored by UNESCO in 2011 estimates that the global oceans-based economy is worth between 3 to 6 trillion USD/ year.

Excellencies and dear friends,

Small Island States should more aptly be called Large Ocean States. But currently our economies do not retain the big share of the benefits from our marine resources, as recognized in the Open Working Group's Ocean Sustainable Development Goal. The domestic value chain is often short, processing and retail takes place in other countries. Yet, modern ocean and fisheries management includes a multitude of resource-intensive activities, for example the collection of data, set-up and maintenance of monitoring systems and the enforcement of legislation. That is why when we talk about a Sustainable Development Goal on Oceans, we also need to talk about specific Means of Implementation.

We welcome the fact that the Open Working Group's outcome document includes several specific means of implementation. Yet, further commitments in this regard, in the Post 2015 Agenda or otherwise, for example in the form of partnerships will yield a double benefit. They will contribute to sustainable and inclusive economic growth for Small Island States, making us less reliant on development assistance. At the same time, they will give us the resources needed to sustainably use and conserve our ocean resources for future generations. We have been the custodian of the Oceans for generations. Improved access to resources, capacity building and technology transfer would allow us to further expand this role. We have to make sure that countries with large ocean territories that spearhead efforts to conserve their marine environment reap the full benefits and profit from their sustainable fisheries or ecotourism, then others will follow.

Dear friends,

Four years after failing to meet the Convention on Biological Diversity's 2010 targets to minimize unsustainable fishing practices and reverse the loss of biodiversity, we have finally made a meaningful step forward for Healthy Oceans & Seas. Yet, many fish stocks are depleted or of uncertain status. Restoring "fish stocks in the shortest time feasible at least to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield" is a vital next step. This also benefits the marine environment and the coral reefs on which my country is built on and the natural sea defense against increasing severe storm surges caused by climate change. Science has repeatedly shown that overfishing, especially of large marine predators has negative effects for coral reef resilience. Impacts of climate change on food security and oceans remain one of the most pressing issues, according to the recent findings of Working Group 2 report of IPCC. Wide spread ocean acidification continues to increase, migration of fish stock are major concerns to small counties like mine where sizable populations employment depends on.

The conservation of sharks is of particular importance to my delegation. Together with Palau, the Bahamas, the Marshall Islands, which are here today, and other countries we are part of the Shark Coalition. Since 2010 we have implemented a shark sanctuary in our territorial waters. This year, again, we look forward to working with our partners to introduce stronger language on the management of shark fisheries and the prohibition of shark finning in the respective United Nations resolution.

Excellencies and dear colleagues,

In 2011, the Maldives embarked on a journey to expand area-based conservation measures in Maldives. We declared the entire Baa Atoll as a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Last year, during my presidency the Maldives scaled up its commitments in response to the call for champions for the Aichi Biodiversity targets by the Convention on Biological Diversity: We committed to extend the UNESCO biosphere reserve to our entire Exclusive Economic Zone. The incumbent administration is holding consultations to provide a clear, environmentally and economically sustainable path to implement this Vision.

Dear friends,

Each individual project and step forward to achieve our common goal of Healthy Oceans & Seas is absolutely vital and critical. Together, they are starting to form a bigger picture of hope and offer unprecedented opportunities for "genuine and durable partnerships" for Small Island Developing States. We have a lot in common. While each country has its own circumstances, we see great opportunity for mutual learning and exchange between our countries.

Achieving sustainable development of Oceans & Seas and realizing the full benefits of an ocean-based economy will deliver economic growth, employment, health and environmental gains not only on the short term - it will do so indefinitely. With a sustainable development goal on oceans we have finally made some progress to make Healthy Oceans & Seas a reality. But this is not the time to rest. We need to defend this progress through the coming intergovernmental negotiations and improve on it, for example through the proposal and selection of adequate indicators. We need to clearly state which resources the global community can provide to empower us to act as custodians of the Oceans & Seas. And we need to forge a multi-stakeholder partnership including member states, civil society and the private sector which continue to stand up for oceans.

As far as Maldives is concerned, I can assure you that we shall continue to work with you all in the advocacy for making the oceans' utilization in a sustainable manner.

Thank you.