Science in Small Island Developing States

April 23, 2021
  • Oceans
  • Reports

A report by Australia’s University of Wollongong has found that capacity building within small island developing states is vital to the success of any international agreement governing the conservation of marine biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

The legally-binding international agreement around marine biodiversity in international waters (the “BBNJ”), being negotiated under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is critical to restoring ocean health and addressing existing gaps in capacity and technology says the report, commissioned by the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and released today.  Discoveries and increased knowledge in these understudied ocean ecosystems can, in turn, inspire the development of commercial products based on the genetic properties of marine organisms.

The analysis notes that many Small Island Developing States (SIDS), through their cultural connections and proximity to these deep sea areas, have operated essentially as ‘large ocean States’ for hundreds and in some cases, even thousands of years.

Given this historical legacy, SIDS will therefore be critical to the practical functioning of any proposed international institutional arrangement. However they currently lack the technological and financial capacity to utilise and commercially benefit from these marine resources relative to bigger countries who lack this custodial heritage.

Speaking at a virtual event launching the study, and ahead of the Ocean and Climate Dialogue in early December, lead author Dr Harriet Harden-Davies explained that the BBNJ agreement will only be successful “… if all countries work together to ensure that no one is left behind, including in ocean research and innovation involving marine genetic resources.”  Noting that SIDS’ capacity needs are diverse, she further cited “.. identifying individual national needs and priorities..” as a critical first step.

Co-Author Dr. Marjo Vierros added that the BBNJ agreement could potentially support SIDS in this regard by “…establishing a framework towards assessing and addressing their capacity needs with potential global partners.” This “Global Plan of Action”, with corresponding strategies should necessarily include SIDS access to adequate, predictable and sustainable funding. 

“We commissioned this report to ascertain how we can best engage in – and benefit from – this important international agreement, which will be crucial in setting rules around the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity for us and future generations,” said Ambassador Janine Felson, Deputy Chair of AOSIS.

“We are aware of the intense interest in the marine environment, from fisheries to seabed mining, and we want to be clear what resources we need in going forward to make sure we can engage.”

Read the Summary Report for Policymakers here