The Association of Southeast Asian Nations is an organization that brings together ten coastal countries in the region. Their shared goal is to aid the economic and social development of the region broadly, with each country working together. As of 2017, the chair of the ASEAN is the Philippines – having formerly been Laos.
It up to the Philippine government to take control on leading issues, one of which is the health and protection of the region’s oceans. ASEAN needs to lead the way on new measures for the conservation of these vital habitats. There are many threats to contend with, but also many potential solutions.
One of the many charms of this Southeast Asian region is the rich biodiversity of its vast oceans. However, this is increasingly under threat.
Part of the reason that the oceans are so important in Southeast Asia is their size. These territorial waters are extensive and a vital source of income for the 625 million relying upon them. Much of this comes from fishing and tourism, both of which depend on rich diversity in life and healthy waters.
15% of the world’s fish stocks are now caught and processed here. It also contains 33 % of the world’s seagrass meadows, 34 % of coral reefs and 35% of mangrove acreage. This is home to over 2000 species of fish, from rare tropical ones to giant whale sharks, as well as six of the seven special of sea turtle.
Sadly, these habitats and species are in decline. Mangroves may be expanding, but the seagrasses and corals are dying out. It has a devastating effect on all those species feeding and living there. It is primarily due to as a lack of protection, as just 2.3% of the marine landscape classifies as a Marine Protected Area.
In addition to this, the threats of global warming, waste and the illegal wildlife trade are all contributing factors. The seas are rising and warming, killing coral and driving fish stocks away. Some rare species are highly prized catches for aquariums.
Without adequate laws and protection, they could die out. It is bad news for the fishermen and tourism leaders as well as the wildlife. Some are not helping the situation due to their practices.
What Improvements Can The ASEAN Do?
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations needs to lead the way here with strong leadership and initiatives. This means cooperation within existing laws and frameworks for an effective response. Each ASEAN coastal nation needs to work together within ocean governance.
They have already noted a need for improvements in policies for disaster risks, biodiversity conservation, and pollution. Malaysia launched the ASEAN Strategic Plan on the Environment (ASPEN) as a starting point during their time as chair. There is also the clear need to look at responsible, effective strategies that work for the people as much as the environment.
This means big goals with long-term environmental, economic and social outcomes. An interesting new idea here is that of the blue economy. This has a focus on the sustainable use of ocean resources by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
The good news here is that there are many ways in which the Southeast Asia area can improve the situation.
1) Improvements To Education And General Attitudes To Marine Protection.
The first thing that the region needs to do is to ensure that its people become engaged with green issues and marine conservation. The problem of marine litter is manageable at both a commercial and community level. That is if they offer the right information and guidance.
Also, there is a need to promote the issues of green energy and energy efficiency. It is particularly the case in regions where urbanization and increased use of resources are a significant threat. Energy reduction and greener sources could help poorer, rural communities.
2) The Creation Of Protected Areas And Conservation Measures.
One of the best ways to ensure that these habitats remain protected is to create more Marine Protection Areas. Protected zones need protection from dangerous practices. This includes blast fishing and other activities that can damage and disturb wildlife.
These areas can be further monitored by conservation groups to allow populations to recover. These areas do not have to be completely off-limits to responsible, sustainable fisherman.
3) Improvements To Fisheries And Methods Of Engaging With Marine Areas.
The fisheries is an area of major concern for the ASEAN, as this is such a vital industry in the region. Many nations turn to these oceans as a source of fish and seafood, either for their consumption or export. This is what leads to over-fishing and threats to species numbers.
The solution here is to look at more sustainable options and quotas that are beneficial to both sides. Also, these responsible fisheries need to use safer practices to prevent further loss of life and marine pollution.
4) Improvements To Eco-Tourism.
Finally, there is also the potential for improvements to eco-tourism. Again, tourism is an industry that these Asian nations rely heavily upon. People flock to see the oceans, dive in the reefs and sea creatures that they cannot at home. It includes those tropical fish, sea turtle, and great whale sharks.
Eco-tourism allows people to enjoy these sites in a responsible way. Divers get incredible experiences while respecting the area and profits can go back into the protection and development of the area. It is also a great way for local communities to get involved with conservation and make a healthy living.
There is no doubt that as chair of the ASEAN, the Philippines can help to push these matters further and ensure that the region moves forward. They have already proven themselves as a nation that has strong interests in MPAs and education on the subject.
There is an excellent chance that a combination of real leadership, new initiatives, and indigenous knowledge can help. This collaborative effect could be just what they need for improved practices and measures that are best for all concerned. It means the fishermen, corals, wildlife, tourists and all others relying on these incredible habitats.