‘Their Future is Our Future ‘ – that is the poignant theme of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) meeting taking place in Manila, The Philippines next week.

As Fabienne, Margi, Niki and I scurry around in our last final preparations for this meeting, sending governments invitations to our side events, providing the media with our briefings, co-ordinating with the partners around the world, we feel the same relief and excitement that is always felt before such big events. We wonder if all of our months of preparation will pay off, whether governments will agree with our views, whether our side-events on our key issues of ocean noise, marine debris and aquatic wild meat are going to run to plan, and perhaps of most imminent importance, will all four of us make all of our flight connections and arrive in the Philippines in time!

So what are we going to all of this effort for? Well CMS is a special kind of environmental treaty. Established under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme, it deals specifically with the conservation of migratory species, which as defined as those that predictably or cyclically cross one or more natural jurisdictional boundaries, most marine species are. CMS tries to bridge conservation gaps and promote co-operation between countries. Without such measures a species, or even an individual of a species, could be subject to varying degrees of protection as it moves between different parts of its range.

Next week’s meeting is the Twelfth Conference of the Parties to CMS (CMS COP12) and for those working on ocean issues there are high expectations that the theme of the meeting which focusses on ‘sustainable development for wildlife and people’ will provide a well-timed platform where governments will not only be obliged, but hopefully also empowered, to follow up on some of the many commitments made at this years’ ‘game-changing’ Oceans Conference. This is particularly true of issues such as marine debris which have been firmly placed on the global agenda as a priority and have catastrophic impacts on migratory species such as whales, dolphins, turtles, seabirds and seals, and therefore require increased cooperation between countries to properly address.

Although CMS is not a body focussed exclusively on oceans, the opportunity for this conference to take strides towards better protection for ocean species is even evidenced by the chosen centrepiece on the conference logo. The whale shark acts as a reminder that this is a species for which greater protection is being sought at the conference. The colours of the conference logo also reflect the colours of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a further indicator that we can expect to see an increased focus on the links between conservation and sustainable development.

One of my most rewarding responsibilities since working for OceanCare has been the role I have played in the development of a multi-stakeholder partnership that fits exceptionally well with the sustainable development for wildlife theme and will be a key focus for myself and OceanCare at this meeting. This Partnership focusses on ‘aquatic wild meat’, an issue which describes the capture, trade and consumption of aquatic wildlife such as dolphins, manatees and turtles and which for the first time will have a significant spot on the agenda of a CMS meeting. OceanCare has been coordinating the development of the ‘Abidjan Aquatic Wildlife Partnership’ which seeks to address this issue under the umbrella of the Abidjan Convention which is an international agreement focussed on the protection and conservation of the marine and coastal environment along Africa’s Atlantic coast. Working alongside other partners who have also supported the development of this Partnership, I have been given the great honour of representing the Abidjan Secretariat, as well as OceanCare at this event which will officially launch the Partnership. Myself and others in the OceanCare team will be encouraging governments to give this issue increased attention by supporting the set up of a CMS international Aquatic Wild Meat Working Group which would support the Abidjan Aquatic Wildlife Partnership through the provision of information and expertise.

At this meeting I may become an expert juggler of hats as I will also be representing the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nation’s (FAO) at OceanCare’s side event on marine debris. Alongside my work with OceanCare I have also been working within FAO’s Fisheries and Aquaculture Department as a consultant focusing on fishing generated causes of marine debris, in particular Abandoned, Lost or otherwise Discarded Fishing Gear (ALDFG). Also known as ‘ghost gear’ due to its harmful tendency to carry on catching and entangling fish and other marine species, ALDFG is a particularly harmful form of marine debris. Working with a UN agency like the FAO has given me a much greater appreciation and understanding of what goes on behind the scenes in order to make progress at this high level. It’s been a great learning experience and allows me to provide OceanCare with a more informed view. Building on the global momentum that now exists to rid our seas of marine debris, OceanCare will be announcing #ICare, a new behavioural change campaign against single-use plastics and I will be complementing this with information about FAO’s work at an international policy level to develop guidelines to assist the fishing industry in managing their fishing gear responsibly so that it doesn’t end up as ghost gear. I am also very excited that we will be co-hosting this side event with the Olive Ridley Project – a wonderful NGO based in the Maldives who are tirelessly focussed on protecting sea turtles in the Indian Ocean particularly from harm caused by marine debris.

The other key issue for OceanCare at CMS COP12 is the increasing noise pollution in our oceans and its harmful effects on marine life. Levels of human induced noise have doubled in some areas of the ocean, every decade, for the past 60 years creating an urgent need to manage and reduce noise-generating activities. OceanCare will be  bringing decades of expertise on this issue to CMS COP12, urging governments to adopt new guidelines on Environmental Impact Assessments for Marine Noise-generating Activities.

Some people are calling 2017 the year of the oceans and it has certainly been a high profile year for ocean conservation decisions, action and accountability and there have been many key political opportunities throughout this year which have kept myself and the rest of the OceanCare team very busy. OceanCare see CMS COP12 as a major opportunity for governments to cooperate and forge a path forward for our oceans, including addressing marine debris, ocean noise and aquatic wild meat.


Joanna Toole

Joanna Toole

Joanna has spent the last decade working on animal welfare and ocean conservation issues within both the NGO and Intergovernmental sectors. Together with Fabienne McLellan and Nicolas Entrup she attends the Convention on Migratory Species in Manila.

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) is holding its twelfth Conference of the Parties (CMS COP12) in Manila, The Philippines, on 23-28 October. Please read all of OceanCare’s policy briefings for CMS COP12 here.