Traditional knowledge of fisher people may be included in the process of identifying marine biodiversity hot spots

Some countries noncommittal about identifying ecologically and biologically sensitive marine areas in high seas and territorial waters

By Kumar Sambhav Shrivastava
Published: Sunday 14 October 2012

With many countries stepping up demand to include social and cultural criteria in identifying ecologically and biologically significant marine areas (EBSAs) during the ongoing CoP 11 biodiversity meet in Hyderabad, coastal communities and their traditional knowledge may finally become part of the process. So far, identification of such areas has been based only on scientific criteria.

Identification of EBSAs has been one of the important agendas of CoP 11 under the Convention on Biodiversity’s (CBD) programme of work on coastal and marine biodiversity. The process was initiated in 2008 to identify biodiversity hot spots in the high seas beyond national jurisdictions. Such areas are more vulnerable to threats like deep-sea mining and other commercial exploitations because of very little monitoring. Various scientific criteria such as uniqueness of habitat and importance and vulnerability of species were evolved to identify such areas.

However, in the last few years, the focus of the countries has shifted from identifying EBSAs in the high seas to coastal areas. This has worried fishing communities who fear their traditional rights might get affected in such areas if governments impose the conservation model of marine protected areas in EBSAs, which exclude communities.

Integrating indigenous and local communities and their traditional knowledge has been at the centre of agendas of CBD. However, it does not seem to be happening on ground. In the five regional workshops held by the CBD so far to identify EBSAs, several such areas have been identified in the coastal areas. But fishing communities were not involved in the process. This is despite the decision in previous CoPs that “traditional, scientific, technical and technological knowledge of indigenous and local communities and social and cultural criteria” will be integrated in identifying EBSAs.

China, Japan show no interest

During the CoP 11 meet, Indonesia, supported by various indigenous people’s forums, said that the best available scientific and technical knowledge, including relevant traditional knowledge should be the basis of the description of areas that meet the criteria of EBSA’s and that indigenous and local communities should be included in the conservation and management of such areas. 

While efforts are on to include the communities in the process of identifying EBSAs, debate is also on whether the concept of identifying such areas in high seas should be replicated in the territorial waters of nations. While the European Union and countries like Brazil are learnt to have endorsed the process in both the high seas and their territorial waters, countries like India are reported to have said that it should be subject to national circumstances. Countries like China, Japan and Peru have, so far, not shown much interest in taking up the process either in the high seas or their territorial waters. “The countries are undermining the conservation efforts by such differences. Identification of EBSAs will only give information about the biodiversity hot spots in the seas. It does not dictate how those areas should be governed or managed. It is in no way going to affect the interest of the countries,” said Areeba Hamid of Greenpeace India.

Chandrika Sharma of International Collective in support of Fishworkers, however, said for India the first priority should be to protect its coasts and livelihood of the coastal communities. “The area-based management of EBSAs will not work on Indian coasts where you have so much industrial exploitation and destruction of ecology. EBSAs are good for high seas. To protect the coasts, you need a larger policy framework,” she added.


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