January 23, 2018

Initiatives Announced under Third International Year of the Reef

News Source: SDG Knowledge Hub

Author(s): Catherine Benson Wahlén

17 January 2018: On the occasion of the third International Year of the Reef (IYOR), the UN, governments and non-government organizations reiterated their commitment to protect coral reefs. The IYOR aims to strengthen global awareness of the value of coral reef ecosystems, promote partnerships, and identify and implement effective management strategies for the conservation, sustainable use and resilience of reef ecosystems.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP or UN Environment), the primary threats to coral reefs are rising temperatures, ocean acidification, pollution, plastics and sediments, destructive fishing practices, and overfishing. The UN Action Hub has highlighted that the average period between bleaching events has been cut in half since 1980, with episodes of severe bleaching occurring twice as frequently. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) primarily address the conservation and sustainable use of coral reefs under SDG 14 (life below water).

In conjunction with the IYOR, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama announced the nomination of its Great Sea Reef as a Ramsar site. The designation aims to protect large portions of Fiji’s Great Sea Reef from climate change, wastewater and chemical pollution, and other threats. In a statement, Bainimarama said the nomination aims to conserve the area for future generations. A Ramsar site is one designated as a wetland important for global biodiversity conservation and human well-being, and the Convention’s broad definition includes coral reefs.

Further, UNEP announced the forthcoming launch of an analysis of Pacific coral reef status by the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN). The report finds that the structure and types of corals in Pacific reefs are changing, which affects the ecosystem services provided by these reefs, particularly fisheries productivity. Still, the report finds that Pacific reefs are in better shape than many other coral reefs around the world.

UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim also called on the world to combat the decline of coral reefs and address plastic in the world’s oceans. Solheim explained that corals may eat microplastics and larger plastic debris can break or smother corals. He stressed, “This is a make or break year for the world’s coral reefs.” To address marine litter, UNEP has spearheaded the UN Clean Seas campaign, and announced, in October 2017, that Spain had joined, bringing the total number of countries to 32.

Finally, the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) Director General, Kosi Latu, called for improved management and protection of coral reefs, urging increased collaboration to “respond to climate change, manage waste, conserve and restore biodiversity and support strong governance.” Latu said SPREP has established a two-year campaign, the Pacific Year of the Reef, to address these issues.

The International Coral Reef Initiative declared 2018 as the third IYOR at its 31st general meeting. The first IYOR took place in 1997, followed by the second IYOR in 2008.