Your Serene Highness,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It’s a great pleasure to be here today. I last spoke at this event two years ago. Thank you very much for inviting me back.

Two years.

From an ocean perspective, two years are nothing. . Our oceans are at least 3.8 billion years old. What are two years in ocean terms? Nothing more than the blink of an eye, a single wave breaking on a beach. As they say, just a drop in the ocean.

So it’s not surprising that much of what we discussed about the oceans two years ago, still holds today.

Climate change and its effects are still intensifying. Plastic pollution and nutrients continue to be a threat.

Meanwhile much of the ocean’s potential – for sustainable food production, for clean energy – remains underdeveloped.

But two years from a human perspective is quite substantial. Two years is 5% of a middle aged person’s life. So much can happen in that time.

In the past two years, we have done a lot.

We have agreed an international moratorium on fishing in the Arctic.

In the UN, after years of preparatory work, we are now drafting a treaty to protect biodiversity in the high seas.

Meanwhile, in the European Union, we are pursuing our international ocean governance agenda for strong and united ocean action. Two years in, our first progress report shows we are on the right track.

One of my personal highlights was the Our Ocean conference we hosted in Malta almost 2 years ago, which raised 7 billion euros worth of ocean pledges.

Campaigns on marine litter have captured the public imagination.

And we have also seen growing public pressure for better ocean health. The European Union is following this up with a new Plastics Strategy. Our proposals include shifting away from single-use plastic items, like cutlery or cotton buds, to more sustainable alternatives.

So I am quietly optimistic. Two years may not be enough time to turn the tide for good. But we have generated a groundswell of support for ocean action.

This is also true for marine protected areas, which is today’s topic for discussion.

You all know that, under the Convention on Biological Diversity, the international community has agreed to set aside 10% of the planet’s waters as marine protected areas by 2020. I am proud to say that the European Union has already surpassed that goal.

We are protecting our marine and coastal areas through our Natura 2000 network, the world’s largest coordinated network of conservation areas. Our over 3000 marine sites cover about half a million square kilometres, roughly the size of Spain.

That said, not all EU seas and coastlines are protected to the same extent. For example, while 27% of the Greater North Sea are protected, the same is true for only 3% of the Ionian and Central Mediterranean Seas.

In addition, we need to increase our efforts to manage these spaces properly. A recent study indicates that only one third of Adriatic MPAs have management plans in place. But we know from experience that simply identifying and setting aside space, and then only hoping for the best is not good enough.

MPAs need to be well-designed and well-run. Only then can they contribute to better ocean health. And our research shows that well-managed MPAs are not just good for the environment. They’re good for the economy as well.

The Brijuni National Park is a great example. Featuring extraordinary biological diversity and historical heritage, these islands are one of Croatia’s most popular tourist sites. And thanks to good regulation, cross-sector coordination, adequate resources and effective monitoring, it’s not just biodiversity that is thriving. So are profitable economic activities.

In fact, MPAs in southern Europe generate an average of 640,000 euros each in income to sectors like hospitality and tourism services.

Of the 180,000 Italian companies that depend on the sea, almost one third are related to MPAs, mostly in tourism and recreational activities.

And we find that fishermen too, despite their often considerable scepticism, can benefit from marine parks and time-limited no-take areas. In certain MPAs in Italy and Spain, for example, fishermen are now bringing home more than double their previous catches.

The European Union is also promoting new and effectively managed MPAs beyond Europe under the Convention on Biological Diversity and other relevant fora. But we also cooperate closely with our bilateral partners and regional organisations.

For example, under our Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management Programme, we have provided 20 million euros to countries in Africa, the Pacific and the Caribbean.

We have granted 3 million euros to the Barcelona Convention to promote a network of marine protected areas in the Mediterranean.

In the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, we continue to push for MPAs in the East Antarctica and the Weddell Sea.  

And we continue to pursue our goal of creating strong networks of MPA managers on both sides of the Atlantic, from Europe and Africa to North and South America. These networks give managers the chance to share relevant knowledge, to learn from each other, and to ultimately improve marine protection.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Marine protected areas are not a silver bullet. If they are not managed effectively, if they do not receive proper human and financial resources, they fail.

But where they are well-run, they make all the difference.

The difference between a thriving marine ecosystem and a dead zone.

The difference between bustling boardwalks and boarded-up towns.

That is why the European Union will continue to push for well-managed MPAs at home and abroad. And I count on your help and support in this endeavour.

Thank you.

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