25 Apr

From Policy to Action: A Marine Biodiversity Credit Framework for the Success of MPAs and Beyond


Marine conservation is multifaceted, requiring science, policy, management, and education to achieve protection and preservation. Due to the complexity of the marine environment and the many global human activities that impact it, it requires a multi-disciplinary approach to conservation of marine ecosystems, species, and resources. To add further, it involves the management of human activities that impact the ocean and its resources, as well as the establishment of marine protected areas (MPAs), sustainable fishing practices, and ongoing restoration of degraded habitats and species. Between political and economic interests getting in the way of cooperation, lack of funding in the field, lack of public data, and conflicts over marine resources and the exploitation of marine ecosystems, not to mention human exacerbated crises, the marine conservation field is facing challenges and threats on all fronts.

At OpenEarth, our Ocean Program’s mission is to provide solutions to challenges faced in the marine conservation field. We aim to provide a global framework to finance outcome-based marine conservation in marine protected areas. We are creating the framework for various credit types to encompass threats the oceans face. These credits will act as a funding mechanism for projects and management plans. A key goal at OpenEarth is to assist in protecting 30% of the ocean by 2030 with our research.

International Collaboration for Marine Conservation

Marine conservation is a critical issue that requires global cooperation, international agreements, and innovation to protect and sustain marine ecosystems and their health. International agreements and treaties began a century ago with the goal to protect marine life in a collaborative effort. A significant milestone was made when the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) was signed in 1973 to regulate international trade in endangered species to protect them from overexploitation. This was followed by one of the most significant international agreements for marine conservation, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1982. UNCLOS provides a comprehensive legal framework for the conservation and sustainable use of the ocean's resources, including its living resources. It establishes rules for the exploitation of marine resources, maritime boundaries, and the conservation of marine biodiversity. The health and well-being of these ecosystems are crucial for the survival of the planet and humanity.

Recently, we saw the newest and one of the more significant milestones in marine conservation with the agreement of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework; an international agreement for the high seas that aims to promote biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of natural resources. It addresses the urgent need for action to halt the decline of biodiversity and ecosystem services in the largely unregulated high seas. This framework will help to promote the conservation of marine ecosystems and biodiversity, promoting sustainable fishing practices and reducing the impact of pollution on marine life. The framework aims to ensure land and sea are effectively conserved through ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures by 2030. It also recognizes the importance of addressing the root causes of biodiversity loss, such as habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change. These objectives require the creation and regulation of marine protected areas and a need for integrated and cross-sectoral approaches to biodiversity conservation that address the underlying drivers of biodiversity loss and promote sustainable development.

Great steps have been taken for marine conservation through international agreements and treaties for marine conservation, yet the field still faces significant challenges. It is not as straightforward as laying out a framework of agreement. There is a need for strong leadership, political will, and financial resources to support effective implementation and enforcement of international agreements and treaties. These challenges can be regionally and locally dependent, and can vary from nation to nation. As we have seen, the importance of international agreements and treaties has become even more critical as time goes on and the ocean faces continuous threats.

These challenges are where OpenEarth’s framework can play a role, solving for two key parts. Although our focus is currently on MPAs, it is not limited to these areas. In the high seas, we can look to apply our framework to provide financial incentive to uphold Nations' part in this historical global agreement. With our marine framework, its implementation can provide a financial component to marine conservation. By providing a financial mechanism, and incentive, through the creation of marine biodiversity credits, we can help solve for limits in financial resources in the new high seas treaty. A direct result of providing financial mechanisms is an increase in effective implementation and enforcement of the treaty and its goals. The lessons learned from the implementation of our marine biodiversity credit framework in MPAs can provide a solution to aid in the protection of all marine areas at a local, regional, and global level.

OpenEarth: A Framework to Scale Ocean Conservation

In recent times, we have seen great strides being taken in order to protect biodiversity, land, and sea. International agreements and treaties are essential tools for addressing the challenges facing marine conservation and ensuring 30% of the ocean is protected by 2030. To achieve these targets and ensure nations can hold up to international agreements, solutions to complex issues in the ocean are much needed. While challenges and gaps can be thought of as setbacks, they are the defining factor for innovation and progress. Identifying areas that need progress will lead to inspiration for conservation projects and push technology and innovation to advance conservation. Many efforts are being made around the world to accomplish the global goals and targets.

At OpenEarth, we aim to provide a global framework to scale ocean conservation finance, which in turn can address gaps and challenges that marine conservation faces. We are designing Marine Ecosystem Credits which will encompass multiple aspects of ecosystems, allowing conservation to scale through this financial mechanism. These credits will consist of 4 credit types; marine biodiversity, marine plastic, blue carbon, and eutrophication.

Common Challenges and Gaps in the Marine Field: Our Research and Exploration into Solutions  

Despite the progress made in marine conservation efforts, several gaps need to be filled to ensure targets can be met and challenges addressed. Through collaboration, innovation, policy change, and financial mechanisms, many gaps and challenges can be solved.

Here we will explore some of the gaps and challenges and how OpenEarth’s framework can directly and indirectly address them.

| Political Will

While nations may sign international agreements and treaties, there is little enforcement to follow through. We need strong will from governments to prioritize conservation and allocate adequate funding for research, monitoring, and enforcement. Increasing awareness and education can assist in increasing support for marine conservation through the understanding of the value of the environment.

We may see an increase in political interest from nations to set targets for protection of marine ecosystems and biodiversity with the implementation of our framework. Crediting mechanisms can create incentives to protect the ocean by providing benefits. Our framework can directly and indirectly provide benefits to nations. Our framework can provide a financial solution for conservation projects by alleviating pressure on governments to redirect funds to the environment. Other benefits include collaboration and sharing knowledge through data collection and discoveries through projects, or recognition for exemplary efforts in the field.

| Finance

Implementing international agreements and treaties often requires significant financial resources, which may not be available or prioritized by governments. As a result, conservation efforts may be underfunded, compromising their effectiveness. These efforts can be expensive, and funding for conservation projects can be limited. This can make it difficult to implement large-scale conservation efforts, especially in developing countries.

The framework OpenEarth is designing a financial instrument through credit design to increase  the ability to scale marine conservation. With the potential to fund conservation, nations can then focus on the creation and management of MPAs. This can take the pressure off governments and grant schemes and allows nations that have signed international agreements and treaties to achieve their targets for 30% conservation of their waters.

| Data and Information

One of the biggest gaps is the lack of comprehensive and accurate data on the state of marine ecosystems. Due to their dynamic nature, spatial complexity, and the wide range of species and habitats in marine ecosystems, it can be challenging to collect comprehensive and accurate data. When we look at things such as the distribution and abundance of marine species, the extent and impact of pollution, and the effects of climate change, we have a lack of information on historical states of the ecosystem as well as the current state. Effective conservation and management require accurate and comprehensive data and information, but these may be lacking, particularly in developing countries with limited resources and capacity.

Our framework will allow us and others using the framework to gather data on the current state of marine ecosystems. This is done through determining a baseline of health indicators such as, species abundance, species richness, habitats and more. This data is collected going forwards to determine the increase in biodiversity in a selected marine environment. This information is used to then determine the issuance of a credit, such as a biodiversity credit.

| Monitoring of Marine Protected Areas

Monitoring MPAs is critical to understanding their effectiveness and ensuring that they are achieving their conservation objectives. It requires extensive resources to manage and monitor an MPA, including personnel, equipment, and funding. Many countries lack the resources to conduct comprehensive and long-term monitoring, the capacity, expertise, and effective monitoring protocols.

A framework such as the one OpenEarth is developing can inform nations on the status of their management plans for MPAs. Through conservation projects and initiatives using our framework, nations can expect to see an increase in data. This data collection can provide feedback on the health of biodiversity and ecosystems in a MPA, allowing nations to adjust their management plans if needed. Additionally, nations can simultaneously be rewarded for the current level of protection.

| Scientific Uncertainty

There are also scientific uncertainties when it comes to marine conservation, including the long-term effects of climate change and the effectiveness of different conservation strategies. More research is needed to address these uncertainties and to develop effective conservation strategies.

Over time, by embedding scientific uncertainty in digital environmental assets, our framework will provide incentives for improved data collection, scientific consensus and sharing. Collectively, we can watch and monitor the changes in data as conservation efforts are put into action.

| Implementation, Compliance, and Enforcement of International Agreements, Laws, and Regulations

Another significant gap is the lack of effective enforcement mechanisms for international agreements and treaties. Many nations do not enforce the regulations and standards set by these agreements, leading to overexploitation of marine resources and damage to marine ecosystems, which in turn leads to designation protected areas not being truly protected.

If implementation, compliance, and enforcement of MPAs and agreements and treaties had increased incentive, we could see an increase in efforts to protect at a minimum 30% of national waters. While we hope that nations will uphold an agreement, this is not always the case. This can be due to lack of will, capacity, or funding. All things that can be helped with our global framework to scale conservation. With financial incentives to uphold agreements, we likely will see an increase in protection. On the other hand, we will also see an increase in knowledge, data, and understanding of the importance of such agreements, increasing the will for implementation and enforcement through knowledge. Through financial incentives, data collection informing policy makers, and benefits of collaboration, OpenEarth’s framework can provide these solutions.

| Collaboration and Coordination

Marine ecosystems are transboundary, and effective conservation requires international and regional cooperation and coordination among nations to ensure conservation strategies accepted, supported, and sustainable over the long-term. Stakeholders should be consulted and involved and agreements among nations can be achieved through the establishment of regional marine conservation agreements to address the specific conservation needs of a particular region.

Nations being able to adhere to agreements and treaties will improve collaboration and coordination through success of protection and through the need to collaborate regionally. Sharing of regionally relevant data can inform nations on best management plans and the best practices when creating and managing MPAs. Sharing such information is key to the success of regional protection and decreasing marine threats.

The Takeaway

The importance of international agreements and treaties for marine conservation cannot be overstated. Agreements and treaties play a significant role in marine conservation efforts by establishing a framework for cooperation among nations and setting global targets and goals. These agreements provide a legal framework for protecting marine ecosystems and their biodiversity and setting standards for the sustainable use of marine resources, while promoting international cooperation on research, monitoring, and enforcement. The 30 x 30 goal makes the importance of international agreements and treaties for marine conservation even more crucial and to advance our collective ability to achieve this level of protection. OpenEarth Foundation’s mission is to do just that. Through research, innovation, and collaboration, we provide mechanisms to achieve global targets for marine conservation. We believe it is only through global cooperation and concerted efforts that we can ensure the protection of our oceans for future generations.

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Jul 2022

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