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The Future of Ocean Conservation: New Aspen Report from the Ocean Community Strategy Roundtable

By elevating conservation to nationally-prioritized agendas -- like economic development and food security -- conservation groups are engaging new stakeholders in demonstrating the positive long-term impact of environmental protection.
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This is a pivotal moment in the global movement to protect the oceans from an ongoing trend of over-exploitation that threatens marine ecosystems worldwide. The ocean conservation community has now developed a more effective way to "save the seas," by approaching political leaders, fishermen and local communities with economics-based proposals that move beyond traditional arguments for protecting biodiversity. By elevating conservation to nationally-prioritized agendas -- like economic development and food security -- conservation groups are engaging new stakeholders in demonstrating the positive long-term impact of environmental protection.

A set of recent announcements in the news has highlighted this progress in protection. Just last week, Obama's extension of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument (building on similar efforts implemented by President Bush in 2009) banned fishing and drilling from an area almost 800,000 square miles in size. In addition, Palau's newly announced marine sanctuary will protect 80 percent of its EEZ, the Cook Islands have introduced a ban on commercial fishing from 12 to 50 miles around each island, and the Bahamas has committed to protecting 20 percent of its ocean territory by 2020. The island nation of Kiribati will be closing its Phoenix Islands Protected Area to commercial fishing by the end of this year.

What are the changes in ocean conservation today that are allowing for these strong developments? In a new report from Aspen's Ocean Community Strategy Roundtable, a group of experts convened to discuss the scaling of investment in and deployment of ocean conservation tools, the following trends were highlighted as the key opportunities prioritized by the ocean community today:

  1. The ocean conservation community is using Public-Private Partnerships to build initiatives around the needs of local governments and communities, focused on specific local fisheries problems, food security challenges and economic needs. This approach gets at the heart of the particular goals in which that country will be more willing to invest public funds. Moving forward, the conservation community aims to apply this nuanced understanding of strategies for inspiring local leadership, especially in the case of initially unreceptive governments.

  • The private sector will play an increasingly important role expanding scaling marine protection to the levels required for global impact, in addition to government support. While some companies may be unresponsive to conservation tools like Marine Protected Areas, they have shown strong interest in partnership on economic development and long-term conservation of the resources upon which markets depend (whether companies dependent on fish, minerals, or ocean materials for cosmetics or jewelry). In the next decades, the private sector can lead the way in creating sustainable ocean economies by investing in coastal resilience and implementing technologies that make enhanced marine protection and monitoring possible.
  • One of the most innovative and landscape-changing approaches in marine conservation today is a new approach by conservation groups using a subcontractor model of partnership and coordination. In this model, a single NGO or funder entity develops the demand and commitment from local political leadership, and then delivers on the goals by establishing partnerships with those best prepared to achieve specific goals.
  • Click here to read the full "Ocean Community Strategy Roundtable" Report.

    The ocean conservation community is not yet ready to claim victory, however. The greater part of our oceans remain unprotected, and new studies are needed around the short- and long-term economic benefits of marine protection to better demonstrate their value to leaders, as well as studies on the geographies with both vulnerable ecosystems of high biological value, and also political opportunity.

    To continue this important conversation, the Aspen Institute plans to offer roundtables and larger fora on developing ocean conservation approaches in the coming year, particularly focused on the connection between sustainable fisheries and global food security, and the role of former and current presidents as champions of these new approaches to ocean conservation. Follow our program at