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Publiká riba 31 January 2016
Good morning excellencies, ladies and gentlemen,
Blue Change and the Climate Economy
The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment published by the Environment Department of the World Bank in 2005, provided the first comprehensive global overview of the health of Earth’s ecosystems. The report concluded that tropical marine and coastal ecosystems are among the most threatened ecosystems on our planet.
Overfishing, unsustainable coastal development and climate change contribute to the well-known destruction by humans of mangrove forests, sea grass beds and coral reefs, the world’s largest reservoir of biodiversity. The destruction of these coastal ecosystems reduces the productivity on which we depend for food, and also lowers their resilience, in essence, their ability to adapt to new stressors such as global warming and ocean acidification.
Ecosystem degradation is not only about the disappearance of species we usually never heard of or ecosystems we have never seen. People around the world increasingly realize that natural resources are crucial for their well-being and even survival. Consequently, the social and economic values of Nature, which have often been ignored, have received increasingly greater attention in recent years.
To illustrate, mangroves and coral reefs are the first line of protection for coastal communities against storms and rising sea levels that are both expected to increase as a result of climate change.
Coral reef- supported tourism in the Caribbean brings in 5.5 billion US dollars each year to the region, but only healthy coral reefs attract divers and generate sand for beaches that support the tourism industry in nations that often lack other significant means of income. The contribution of healthy marine ecosystems to the economy of coastal communities, especially in Small Island Developing States, is therefore often large and important.
Hence, the “Blue Economy” is finally receiving the attention it deserves.
Curacao, a small island in the Southern Caribbean, is a “large ocean” more than a small island and, like many other countries, is critically dependent on its marine natural resources.
While degradation has occurred, some of Curacao’s marine ecosystems were recently ranked among the best left in the Caribbean based on the most comprehensive scientific study on the state of coral reefs in the Caribbean that was recently conducted by the IUCN, compiling over 35,000 individual studies.
While healthy reefs are generally appreciated for their aesthetics and unrivalled biodiversity, they generate services and products that are equally appreciated by people unwilling to get their feet wet in the form of known services such as food-provisioning and coastal protection.
Less known, but very important services are regularly added to the already impressive number of ecosystem services provided by coral reefs. Coral reefs become increasingly valued as reservoirs of new medicines to cure some of human’s most common and serious diseases.
Bioactive molecules produced by marine invertebrates such as sea sponges, tunicates and sea hares possess powerful anti-viral, anti-tumor and antibacterial activity and can be used to design new medicines. Compounds found in a variety of organisms on Curacao’s coral reefs show promising results in treating various forms of cancer, illustrating once more that protecting these “rainforests of the sea,” is not only about coral reef conservation, but also about safeguarding the existing and still to-be-discovered services they provide to our island and to humanity as a whole.
Curacao’s coral reefs are among the best studied on the planet. The rapidly growing number of scientific publications resulting from Curaçaoan scientists and visiting researchers is increasingly used by policy makers and managers throughout the Caribbean, in fruitful international collaboration with the goal to protect the region’s natural resources. Scientists and policy makers from Curacao have recently, amongst others, defined 4 internationally recognized areas to protect Curacao’s wetlands (including coral reefs) under the RAMSAR treaty and have in addition designed a new international law to protect marine ecosystems that was approved by countries in Middle and South America in May last year.
Despite these and other success-stories, a changing climate now threatens the resources and services comprising the Blue Economy of Curacao, Small Island Development States and low-lying countries in general. According to the United Nations, climate change is responsible for 70 percent of all natural disasters and this number is expected to increase in the future. Acting now, is the most cost effective way to address its inevitable effects as each dollar spend on prevention is still less than the estimated 30-to-50-fold higher costs of repair.
Furthermore, based on the earlier mentioned study on Caribbean reef health, scientists have found that reefs protected from overfishing and unregulated coastal development have maintained high coral cover and have been more resilient to extreme warming events than unprotected reefs.
We have also learned that reefs, especially when helped through effective management actions, even recover and grow under unfavourable climatic or environmental conditions.
Protective measures taken today in the form of fishery management, sustainable coastal management and the formation of protected areas will therefore prepare our coastal ecosystems to some of the uncertain effects of climate change.
Curacao, just like every other low-lying country, is now forced to make challenging decisions and must accept that the effects of climate change are already upon us. Small Island Development States will serve as the world’s conscience related to climate change, even though Small Island Development States are not its prime provokers and the causes remain, albeit increasingly less, contested. Through existing and new partnerships, Curacao is committed to further protect and expand its use of the island’s natural capital in a sustainable manner through innovative, collaborative approaches.
The ongoing collaboration between technology, science and government has already resulted in new opportunities, ranging from new sustainable, multi-trophic aquaculture approaches, whereby processes learned from Nature are applied to ensure local food-security, to the exploration of new bioactive compounds to treat bacterial diseases against which current antibiotics no longer work.
Through research, innovation and public-private partnerships we aim to sustain and improve not only what are known to be the-best-reefs-left in the Caribbean, but also our growing Blue Economy.
To conclude, it has become obvious that climate change is not a phenomenon in itself, but will be affecting an increasingly larger number of aspects of human life and well-being.
As Small Island Development States and low lying countries, we are too small to change the planet’s climate alone, however with joint action we can minimize its negative effects on our natural resources. Curacao aims to safeguard its Blue Economy and the opportunities it provides.
The closeness of the ocean and all resources therein grant us the opportunity to improve our lives when we discover new sustainable and innovative uses of these resources and advance existing ones.
We will replace the general “doom and gloom” for a more optimistic approach, hopefully in collaboration with others that face similar challenges, to further diversify our economy and to secure the goods and services provided by our oceans.