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Multilateral Governance in Large-scale Marine Systems

Purple anemone (Heteractis magnifica) and resi...

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The Reefs at Risk Revisited, a report by the World Resources Institute released late last month, warns of a “global coral crisis” with 75% of coral reefs currently in danger from overfishing, pollution and climate change. If these threats persist, it is estimated that more than 90% of reefs will be at risk by 2030 and nearly all reefs will be at risk by 2050.

At the centre of this “global coral crisis” is the Coral Triangle, a region regarded as the epicentre of marine life diversity – with 76% of all known coral species and 53% of the world’s coral reefs, where more than 100 million people depend directly on marine and coastal resources for income, livelihood and food security.

In 2009, the governments of Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands adopted the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security (CTI) as an attempt to reverse the decline in the marine environment and pursue a more sustainable use of marine resources in the region. The governance of large-scale marine systems, such as the Coral Triangle can be remarkably complex and fragmented. At the regional level, it is critical to consider the governance “seascape” in which large-scale action is designed and implemented.

Dr Julia Ekstrom presented this morning at the Resilience 2011 Conference, Arizona State University, the paper “Navigating Multilateral Governance in the Coral Triangle”, which examines the extant governance for the CTI region and how multilateral arrangements relate to the priorities of the CTI (seascapes, ecosystem approach, marine protected areas, climate change adaptation and threatened species). In the paper, it was undertaken a multidimensional exploration of 190 documents (conventions, treaties, agreements, action plans, memoranda of understanding etc.) by using text analysis and network diagrams.

Several multilateral arrangements apply to the priorities of the CTI; for example, fisheries is a topic covered in 69% of the arrangements. The Coral Triangle appears to suffer from “Treaty Congestion” that can generate tensions between environmental regimes, characteristic of ineffective responses to environmental degradation. The paper suggests that the CTI should seek to coordinate its actions with those of related efforts to maximise implementation and reduce overlaps and conflicts.


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