Friday’s emails here at the Conservancy were swirling with excitement about what some have called “one of the most important conservation advances of all time” — the Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries, and Food Security (CTI).

And I have to agree with that enthusiastic assessment. When have we ever heard of six governments — entire countries — coming together to ensure the long-term sustainability of their natural resources? I posted last week in anticipation of these events, which included an agreement that may turn the tide toward global awareness and action for our oceans and coasts.

Here’s a closer look at the CTI agreement from Lynne Hale, director of our global marine program, who has been in Manado, Indonesia at the World Ocean Congress and the Coral Triangle Initiative Summit, representing The Nature Conservancy along with Roger Milliken, Jr., chairman of the Conservancy’s board of directors (pictured above with President Yudhoyono of Indonesia):

Four days, 2000 people, hundreds of scientific talks, multiple workshops, and an exposition like a World’s Fair — attended, it seemed, by the entire city’s inhabitants. Add a gala dinner on Thursday night hosted by President Yudhoyono of Indonesia that started with dancers from Minahasa, Bali and Aceh and ended with dramatic fireworks. But all of this was only a prelude to Friday’s main event.

After obtaining three different identification tags and going though the same number of security checks, I was privileged to witness one of the largest commitments ever made to marine conservation. At the Coral Triangle Initiative Leaders’ meeting the heads of state of Indonesia, Philippines, Malaysia, East Timor, Solomon Islands, and Papua New Guinea formally launched the Coral Triangle Initiative for Coral Reefs, Food Security and Fisheries. They adopted a Regional Plan of Action that contains unprecedented commitments to better manage existing marine protected areas (MPAs) and set bold targets for establishing new ones. They committed to transform the management of their fisheries and to take aggressive and coordinated action on climate change.

For someone like me, who began working in marine conservation in the 1970s when ocean and coastal issues rarely made it on to the political agenda, hearing six heads of state explicitly recognize the centrality of healthy marine ecosystems to the well-being of their citizens is both amazing and satisfying. But of much greater consequence is that that they are taking concrete actions to turn rhetoric into action.

Just a few examples…

Inspired by these countries’ commitments and solidarity, an alphabet soup of partners ranging from the Conservancy to the Asian Development Bank to USAID committed to provide resources and work together to support the CTI.

So…I leave Manado, exhausted and exhilarated; and yes, reality begins to slip in. The road ahead is filled with many challenges. But it’s time to get back to work and take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity to leverage the scale, scope and impact of marine conservation so that the magnificent Coral Triangle remains so for generations to come.

(Image: Conservancy Board of Directors Chair Roger Milliken, Jr. (left) and President Yudhoyono of Indonesia. Credit: TNC.)

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