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“Getting people on board”

by Stephan Opitz, Friederike Bauer

In depth

Marine protection is also benefiting traditional fishermen, like this one in Vietnam.

Marine protection is also benefiting traditional fishermen, like this one in Vietnam.

The oceans are under threat: climate change, solid waste and overfishing are jeopardising the living conditions of millions of people, particularly in poorer countries. Stephan Opitz, Member of the Management Committee of KfW Development Bank, explains in an interview why KfW has become increasingly involved in marine conservation, and which strategies promise the greatest success. This interview was written for a KfW supplement in D+C/E+Z.

The United Nations held its first international conference on the oceans in June. Has the global community recognised the need to take action?
I think so. When the Sustainable Development Goals were laid down in 2015, protecting the oceans was not even on the agenda, and was only included after pressure from small island countries. Now we have a separate objective specifically for this with SDG 14. And the first global Ocean Conference took place recently in New York. These are all indications that something is changing here.

Why did it take so long? Overfishing is not exactly a new topic...
There are many reasons for this. In contrast to when on land, we do not immediately see what is happening in the oceans. Neither what is lost, nor what is preserved. In conservation areas on land we can look at elephants, lions and pandas. We can identify with these “key animals”; this increases the pressure. It’s different with the oceans. Here, the treasures are under the water: coral reefs, seagrass beds and fish can only be seen if you dive down. This makes it more difficult to convey information about marine conservation.

Nevertheless, something has to be done urgently.
Yes, that’s the main message that we took from the conference in New York. The oceans are under severe threat – overfishing, solid waste, economic exploitation – and we have to take urgent action against this.

Can the whole thing actually still be reversed?
This was also asked with regard to nature conservation areas on land. Like in Amazonia, an area that is crucial for climate protection. It was argued back then that the pace of deforestation could not be stopped, and that there would be no more forests there within a few decades. But it is precisely in the Amazon rainforest that we see the deforestation rate has dropped, because here – also thanks to development cooperation – conservation strategies were launched in many areas. Strategies that involved the people, offering them economic prospects without destroying the forests. These are successes achieved using approaches that can be transferred in a very similar way to marine conservation.

How might this actually be achieved?
Swift results can be achieved in the oceans as well: where biodiversity is respected, protected and sustainably managed, the seas recover surprisingly fast. It is not too late yet, but we have to act consistently.

What do you think has to happen first?
Firstly, we need to make existing marine conservation areas functional. Some of these protected areas exist in theory only; this is why they are called paper parks. Planning these parks in a way that they have an effect and that fish stocks start to recover is crucial. Officially, we currently have about three percent under conservation; the international target is ten percent. This means we have to activate existing areas and set up new ones.

How can we ensure that there is no fishing in these areas, or only as much as is allowed?
We have to get the people on board. Just like with land-based initiatives. We now know that as soon as “no-take zones” are set up somewhere, and agreements are reached with the local fishermen, everyone profits in the end. What is important is that the fishermen know this is a protected area and certain rules apply. If these rules are adhered to, the yield from the seas will increase again in the medium to long-term.

Many fishermen are poor. Do they not simply need the income today, even if this means they earn less?
This can create a conflict of interests. But often the fishermen simply no longer find anything because the fish stocks have been depleted. There is no short-term benefit for them anymore, and therefore they understand very well that protected zones offer them an opportunity.

You talk about sustainable fishing on a small scale in a sense. But frequently we see large trawlers that deploy unsustainable catching methods and empty the seas. What can be done to counter this?
Modern means of communication now offer good opportunities here to make checks, using satellite technology for example. This means the large trawlers can be located too, and we can determine which ships have fished illegally.

But we are still far from having a complete international control system for the world’s oceans…
Correct, we don’t have that yet, and it will not be a fast process either. Yet controlling the protected zones better is an important objective I think.

Another problem is the growing volume of plastic waste in the oceans. Some hope that we will soon be able to remove this from the water with floating treatment plants or massive suction tubes. What is your take on such ideas?
I don’t think these technical solutions are very promising up to now because the particles are very small. And the waste is widely dispersed. We believe we have to start before that, and try to stop the waste from getting into the oceans in the first place by means of proper waste and recycling systems.

How significant is KfW’s involvement in coastal and marine protection?
It makes up roughly ten percent of our activities in the field of biodiversity, which we carry out on behalf of and with funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). But we consider it to be an emerging topic.

KfW has just set up the “Blue Action Fund” for marine conservation. Why?
By means of the Fund, we can implement projects more quickly, purposefully and on a broader scale because we are working together with large international non-governmental organisations. At the moment it has trust assets of EUR 24 million derived from BMZ funds; we are targeting an amount of EUR 100 million with the involvement of further donors. The need is there, and we are running out of time.

This interview was conducted by Friederike Bauer.

Stephan Opitz is a member of the Management Committee of KfW Development Bank

KfW supplement in D+C/E+Z:


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