The first Blue Planet Fund (BPF) – Ocean Country Partnership Programme (OCPP) Biodiversity Stakeholder Session was held on 14 March, at the Ministry of Environment introducing the Defra led BPF visit to Sri Lanka while the second meeting of the BPF – OCPP took place on the same day with the Fisheries and Seafood Sector related agencies. The £500 million Blue Planet Fund, financed by the UK Official Development Assistance (ODA) budget, supports developing countries to protect the marine environment and reduce poverty and was developed by the UK government to protect the ocean from plastic pollution, warming sea temperatures and overfishing. This includes UK’s call to protect at least 30% of the global ocean by 2030 and UK’s existing commitments to stopping plastic pollution entering the ocean through the joint UK and Vanuatu-led Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance.
One of the Fund’s programmes is the newly designed bilateral technical assistance programme which is based on scoping and needs assessments, ocean partnerships and emergency marine pollution responses. The OCPP aims to deliver marine science technical assistance and the three core themes of marine pollution, biodiversity loss and supporting sustainable seafood and supports countries in strengthening marine science expertise, developing science-based policy and management tools, and educating coastal communities. The OCPP has the ultimate aim of delivering tangible and positive impacts on the livelihoods of coastal communities that depend on healthy marine ecosystems. The OCPPs current partners are Belize, Bangladesh, India, Maldives and the Pacific.
In this regard, the close and active collaboration between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the British High Commission in Colombo on several other climate and environment related initiatives resulted in Sri Lanka receiving support under the BPF-OCPP. As part of the OCPP collaboration with Sri Lanka, a delegation comprising of officials from the UK government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), Joint Nation Conservation Committee (JNC) and Marine Management Organization (MMO) visited Sri Lanka from 14 – 18 March 2022 and held several meetings, field visits and discussions with local stakeholders. This visit was preceded by a technical visit of Cefas from 28th February to 11th March 2022.
During the first session, the Deputy High Commissioner for the British High Commission in Sri Lanka, Lisa Whanstall thanked those present for their collaboration and stated that she looks forward to future partnerships. She further commended the Government of Sri Lanka for the wide-ranging cooperation and commitments at UNFCCC COP-26. She stated that “…Moving forward the UK is eager to continue supporting Sri Lanka to achieve these targets and to build on our exiting platform of environmental engagements.”The UK government hadspent close to £1million under the Commonwealth Litter Programme (CLiP) to provide assistance in combating marine pollution in 2021.Assistance via CLiP provided laboratory facilities to analyze micro plastics to MEPA, NARA, ITI and the CEA, development of educational packs for primary and secondary schools and developing media packs for mainstream and social media all in local languages, research collaboration, assessment of ghost fishing gear and accumulated waste in ports, providing garbage trapping nets for rivers, etc. The UK delegation expressed their willingness to continue supporting Sri Lanka to help drive transformative action and shift the relationship between people, science and the planet.
The Secretary to the Ministry of Environment, Dr. Anil Jasinghe in his presentation on the OCPP grant and the priorities in the marine biodiversity and marine protected area domain, highlighted key management issues such as the absence of a wholistic plan for marine spatial planning, identification and designation for EEZ; absence of a clear pathway for 30×30 and commitments related to marine sector in National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan (NBSAP)/draft National Environment Action Plan (NEAP); offshore spatial planning still very rudimentary; multi use- Multi-stakeholder nature within existing MPAs and the absence of SEA for the use of coastal resources. He further explained that based on the National Environment Policy, the National Environment Action Plan (NEAP) has been developed recently and Conservation and Sustainable Use of Coastal and Marine Resources is one of the main thematic areas identified under the NEAP.
He further stated that among economic activities, tourism and fisheries are the most dependent on the natural resources of the coast and that according to the statistics, coastal and marine fisheries, tourism, industry, maritime transport (ports and shipping), are some of the major economic activities associated with the coastal and marine resources and environment that generate 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s foreign exchange earnings and account for 6.7% of employment.
The second meeting focused on ‘Why sustainable seafood is important’ and how developing nations, such as Sri Lanka are particularly dependent on the ocean while the ocean is facing serious and increasing threats from over-exploitation, pollution, biodiversity loss and climate change.
The Blue Planet fund will aim to provide support that would ensure seafood in Sri Lanka is produced and distributed in ways which support healthy ecosystems, does not over-exploit marine stocks, provides sustainable inclusive and equitable livelihoods and enhance resilience to climate and socioeconomic shocks. The OCPP Programmes will also incorporate cross-cutting themes such as gender and vulnerable groups, climate change, economic shocks, etc.
Deputy British High Commissioner Whanstall stated that the UK is focused on environmental and wildlife conservation as well and that collaborative work is of paramount importance. The Deputy High Commissioner further emphasized that the Glasgow Climate Pact commitments are significant and need to be initiated.
State Minister for Ornamental Fish, Freshwater Fish and Shrimp Farming, Fisheries Harbour Development, Multi-Day Fishing and Fish Exports Kanchana Wijesekara thanked the UK government, the Blue Planet Fund and the UK-High Commission for their offer to collaborate. The State Minister stated that over 80% of Sri Lanka’s fish stocks have depleted with a significant effect on tourism. He emphasized on post-harvest losses(40%);insufficient availability of technical advice, need for a stronger legal framework and monitoring/management of marine resources are the main areas of concern. The State Minister further requested for assistance to develop aquaculture and sustainable fishing and added that the State Ministry will give its fullest support to the relevant agencies for the collaboration under BPF – OCPP.
During the Wrap Up session organized with the participation of all relevant stakeholders, the UK team offered to continue building on existing marine pollution, marine biodiversity and sustainable seafood related activities focusing on Outreach and Education, Science, and Governance and Policy under each theme. Other key highlights on potential areas for collaboration included assistance for Marine Spatial Planning, assessing marine natural capital, support for effective management of Marine Protected Areas in line with 30 x 30 initiative that Sri Lanka is already a part of, support for enhancing capabilities of Sri Lanka for maritime disaster preparedness, support to strengthen sustainable seafood production and trade and support to reduce IUU fishing in national waters.