Agenda Item 76: Oceans and Law of the Sea

Statement by Mr Ismail Raushan Zahir, Second Secretary, Permanent Mission of the Republic of Maldives to the United Nations

United Nations, New York, 7 December 2016


Mr President, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen

As a low lying series of atolls both reliant on the ocean and directly threatened by changes to the marine environment, my country the Maldives, views matters relating to the oceans and seas as critically important.

As such we greatly appreciate this attention and time being paid to the significant challenges faced by the world's oceans and seas and welcome the adoption of the annual resolutions under this Agenda Item. My delegation further welcomes the Secretary-General's Reports under this item, which serves as an important catalogue on the debate and negotiations on this issue. We also recognize and thank the coordinators of the draft resolution for their commitment in leading the informal sessions.

The ocean has sustained life on earth for billions of years, and is the crux which balances all the delicate ecosystems on our planet. It is nature's source of immeasurable wealth, which we as humans have only just begun to explore. Therefore, it is not only an asset, but a necessity to ensure continuity of life as we know it. This is precisely why we need to ensure that the oceans remain a source of life for future generations, instead of evolving into a threat to their existence due to our own thoughtless actions.

Mr. President,

Due to the interconnected nature of our oceans, human actions which adversely impact the oceans directly or indirectly affect us all, including those of us which do not cause, or even contribute to these problems. With the majority of our countries' geography comprising of ocean, Small Island States are most susceptible to falling victim to these adverse impacts.

As one of the biggest threats facing our generation, the wide-ranging and often irreversible impacts of climate change, are not only altering our atmosphere, but ravaging our oceans as well. With the aggregate increase in ocean temperatures throughout the world, thermal stress caused by events such as El-Nino, has amplified, resulting in severe coral bleaching across Maldivian reefs, compromising marine ecosystems and posing challenges to bait fisheries. Similarly, with the increase in surface temperatures, the thermocline layer has regressed, resulting in the decline of surface skipjack tuna catches. Ocean acidification, also directly linked with greenhouse gas emissions, has chemically changed marine environments resulting in detrimental impacts on the ecosystems, the extent to which remains to be discovered.

Increase in water temperatures, coral bleaching, ocean acidification and deterioration of the marine environment impacts not only fisheries, but tourism as well, leading to ramifications in the two largest economic industries in the Maldives. The world at large needs to enhance efforts to mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change and global warming, in the interest of intra and intergenerational equity.

Mr. President,

Another significant cross-border issue plaguing our oceans is abandoned, lost or otherwise discarded fishing gear. It is estimated that there are over 640,000 tons of abandoned fishing gear throughout the world's oceans, which take hundreds of years to disintegrate. During monsoon seasons, abandoned fish aggregating devices and "ghost nets" drift into Maldivian waters, destroying reefs and entangling cetaceans and other marine life. This not only poses a risk to the marine environment, but humans as well, due to the introduction of micro-plastics into the food chain. In addition to mitigating the risks to human and environmental health, there is also an economic incentive to address this issue, as cost benefit analysis has proven that the expenses of retrieving such gear is minute, compared to the loss of revenue accrued from failing to do so. We need to take collective action to stop contributing to this problem which impacts the world at large, and also start reversing the damage which is being done already.

Similarly, ocean plastic pollution and marine littering due to incompetent waste management create equally harmful risks to the global oceans and marine wildlife. On a global scale, we need to reduce both the production and consumption of plastic, and at the same time, ensure that waste management plans are improved to intercept plastic waste, and utilize the potential economic benefits which are to be reaped from recycling. In this regard, in the Maldives, we have already begun to address ocean plastic pollution through a partnership between Parley for the Oceans and local NGO BEAM.

Mr. President,

The value and significance of oceans is recognized best by Small Island States, as our relationship with the ocean transcends economic value. The strong social and cultural ties we have with the ocean form a part of our unique identity. Therefore, we Maldivians have embraced our role as a custodian of the ocean, and have undertaken numerous measures to conserve and sustainably use our oceans.

In line with target 14.5 of the sustainable development goal on conservation and sustainable use of oceans and seas, the Maldives has designated 42 Marine Protected Areas throughout its national waters, totalling more than 24,494 hectares of reef area. Further, the Environmental Protection Agency has identified 274 environmentally sensitive areas based on their biodiversity, uniqueness and economic benefits of preservation. However, to attain the goal of conserving 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020, we call upon other countries to enhance conservation efforts in their jurisdictions as well. The UNESCO biosphere reserve in Baa Atoll in the Maldives is an illustration of how the economic benefits of MPAs outweigh the restrictions in development activities.

Similarly with regard to protecting the unique biodiversity contained within coral reef ecosystems, the Maldives has also undertaken extensive efforts to restore coral reefs through coral propagation. This methodology is being successfully utilized by tourist resorts and NGOs. Additionally, a Coral Reef Monitoring Framework has been established to support the national coral reef monitoring program to keep closer track of what is happening in our reefs involving civilians and scientific researchers. Coral reefs not only present diverse ecological value, but our main industries – tourism and fisheries – also rely on them.

Mr. President,

The Maldives is also recognized as a global leader in sustainable fisheries; utilizing 'one by one' sustainable fishing methods such as the pole and line fishing and hand-line fishing, educating the industry through the development of a fishers' curriculum, and reducing the exploitation of live bait species through a Live Bait Fishery Management Plan. We have established a Fisheries Information System which ensures traceability throughout the value chain, which is among one of the best traceability systems in the world. Strong policies have also been developed to introduce mariculture in the Maldives with the goal of diversifying the fisheries sector, and reducing stress on existing fish stocks.

However, due to inherent capacity and resource constraints for monitoring our territorial waters, the Maldives continues to fall victim to illegal fishing throughout our Exclusive Economic Zones. This has resulted in economic losses greater than 600 million USD, and also greatly sets back our efforts to protect the fish stocks and our marine environments.

Mr. President,

It is becoming abundantly clear that we, as Small Island States, with our inherent constraints in capacity and resources cannot bear the burden of protecting the oceans alone. And as the ocean is a source that connects us all, these are global issues for which the responsibility should be shared by the world. We all, collectively need to become guardians of our earth's oceans.

In this regard, the Maldives welcomes the United Nations Conference to Support the Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goal 14 on Conservation and Sustainable Use of the Oceans, Seas and Marine Resources, which will be convened in New York next year. We believe it will be a valuable platform which will bring the world together to discuss how to implement the Goal, build partnerships, and share mutually beneficial experiences and best practices. We hope that it will deliver a strong Call for Action as an outcome.

Mr. President,

While we at the United Nations are engaged on many oceans issues - including varied processes focused on governance, fisheries, conservation of species, among others, we must rethink our systems of engagement. The oceans and its resources form an interconnected ecosystem and our approach towards ensuring their preservation must reflect that reality. We need to stop working in silos and urgently adopt a more coordinated and comprehensive approach.

The establishment of a preparatory committee for an international agreement for biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction, (BBNJ), presents us with a unique opportunity to address the gaps in ocean governance and protection. We must utilize this opportunity and work together constructively. Indeed, the BBNJ process over the years ahead, might just be leading towards one of the most important legal regimes in this context, and it is our sincere hope that it can result in the kind of global scale change that is required to give our oceans a fighting chance.

We need to stop poisoning the waters on which we rely on for food. We need to stop exploiting the ocean's resources without regard for the long term consequences, especially when it is being done illegally. We need to stop wiping out entire species which have thrived for millions of years. We need to stop polluting the earth's atmosphere in a way which could consequently change the nature of the ocean irreversibly. And we need to preserve the wealth of our oceans for our future generations.

I thank you Mr. President.