Address at Special Event on Strengthening Regional Ocean Governance and Partnerships towards ‘Clean Seas’

Delivered at Special Event on Strengthening Regional Ocean Governance and Partnerships towards ‘Clean Seas’, Asia-Pacific Ministerial Summit on the Environment in Bangkok, Thailand

Distinguished delegates,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Oceans are the lifeline of millions of people in our region and beyond. Our waters are home to the most biologically diverse and productive marine ecosystems on Earth. A healthy marine system is critical for the economies and people of Asia-Pacific region.

  • Our region is the world's largest producer of fish and offers livelihood to 200 million people; 1
  • Eighty-four percent of the global population engaged in the fisheries and aquaculture sector is in Asia;2
  • The Pacific Islands supply one-third of the world’s tuna with a first-sale value of over $4 billion.
  • Reef-based tourism in the Coral Triangle, which is home to 76 percent of all known coral species and over 3,000 fish species, is valued at around $258 million annually.

Healthy oceans and marine ecosystems play a vital role in stabilizing our planet’s climate, absorbing over a quarter of the carbon dioxide produced by humankind. They are the first line of defense for coastlines and islands from seawater inundation and tropical storms.

The potential of our marine ecosystems is being eroded and threatened by rampant marine pollution, ocean acidification and warming, destructive and unregulated fishing practices, unsustainable trade and transport, and inadequate marine governance. Asia and the Pacific are major sources of marine pollution and highly vulnerable to its impacts. Let me underscore this by sharing some key areas of concern from across our region.

  • About 60 percent of coral reefs in the region are at risk from coral bleaching and destructive human activities.
  • The region’s fish stocks and coral reefs are on the brink of collapse due to overfishing and illegal, unreported, unregulated and destructive fishing practices.
  • Marine pollution from land-based run-off and plastic waste is choking our oceans’ ecosystems. An estimated 10 to 20 million tonnes of plastic find their way into the world’s oceans each year, costing the tourism, fishing and shipping industries in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries alone $1.3bn each year.3 The world’s top five countries discarding ‘mismanaged’ plastics in the oceans are in Asia and the Pacific.4

If we continue like this, by 2025 the ocean will contain more plastic than fish.5

To protect and restore the health of our oceans, the UN’s June Ocean Conference called for strengthened cooperation and partnerships to act on marine pollution and climate change. It insisted on the need to address irregularities in fishing practices, while promoting sustainable and small-scale fisheries. Building improved regional ocean governance and partnerships through improved legal and regulatory frameworks are essential in addressing these issues effectively.

The Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) will strengthen its efforts to promote healthy oceans in three distinct ways.

First, we plan to enhance the integration of ocean based economies and markets through regional cooperation.
Second, to assess the capacity development needs of member States for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goal 14.

Third to provide the required capacity building to deal issues relating to the Ocean.

At the UN Ocean Conference, ESCAP submitted a voluntary commitment to establish an Oceans Account Partnership for the Asia-Pacific to build the statistical capacity surrounding Oceans and to develop policies that optimize the sustainable use of oceans while minimizing the risk of ecological collapse and natural disasters. Our subregional office in the Pacific is working closely with the small island developing States to translate SDG 14 at the subregional and local levels and to develop a strategic concept of the Blue Economy in the Pacific.

Civil society initiatives such as the CleanSeas Campaign and Bye Bye Plastic emphasize that concerted action is needed to ban single-use plastic bags, urge businesses to reduce and recycle packaging, and feed waste resources back into the product cycle.

I commend efforts taken in the region, for example in Palau, to protect marine habitats from destructive fishing practices and promote eco-friendly tourism. We must also deepen our understanding of the role that healthy oceans play in a changing climate, which will be an important theme at the upcoming Climate Conference hosted by Fiji.

We should not lose the momentum created by the Ocean Conference. Let us join hands across agencies and across oceans, to protect our precious marine resources.

I thank you.

1About The Oceans and Fisheries Partnership – The Oceans Fisheries Partnership 2017

2FAO. The State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture 2016. Contributing to Food Security And Nutrition For All. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); 2016.

3“Understanding the Economic Benefits and Costs of Controlling Marine Debris in the APEC Region” (APEC Marine Resources Conservation Working Group 2009):

4UN ESCAP. Statistical Yearbook for Asia And The Pacific 2016: SDG Baseline Report. Bangkok: United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP); 2017.

5“The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics” (Ellen McArthur Foundation, 2016):