This week’s Coral Triangle Business Summit see leaders from seafood, marketing, tourism, and travel industries engaging with representatives of the finance sector and government policy makers to forge new partnerships in the planet’s most important marine environment.
The summit comes at a time when there has never been more at stake for coastal communities and environments in the Coral Triangle – a region covering the marine areas of the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Timor Leste. It focuses on sustainable growth and bring together business leaders and policy makers from across the region.
The Coral Triangle contains 75 percent of the world’s known coral species, one third of the world’s coral reef area and more than 3,000 species of fish, and its abundant marine life supports the livelihoods of more than 150 million people.
But the Coral Triangle is under threat. Under the current climate change path, and with the current rate of over-exploitation of marine resources, there will be 50 percent less protein available from the sea by 2050, and 80 percent less by the end of the century.
This represents a major food security threat for coastal communities in the Coral Triangle, to say nothing of the economic fallout on the millions of businesses that once relied on healthy marine environments across the region.
This looming threat to the region’s ongoing food security and economic prosperity inspired a historic demonstration of political will by leaders of all six Coral Triangle nations at the World Ocean Conference in Manado in May last year.
They stood together and committed to a plan of action to save the region’s marine environments by increasing protection for its natural wonders and reducing pressures on its marine environments.
The resulting Manado Ocean Declaration stressed the need for national strategies for sustainable management of coastal and marine ecosystems, in particular those with significant potential for addressing the adverse effects of climate change such as mangroves, coral reefs and other natural features that buffer communities from extreme weather events. As impressive and unprecedented as this declaration was, it can only bear fruit if it is matched with a similar level of commitment from the private sector.
Seafood businesses and fishing operators, tourism companies, airlines, oil and gas companies all exploit the Coral Triangle’s abundant marine resources for their businesses. With rapidly expanding populations, economic growth and the pressures of international trade, these businesses are competing more and more for fewer resources.
Cooperation for the sake of sustainable growth therefore makes more business sense now than ever before.
There are growing legislative, social and market pressures on the corporate world to take greater responsibility for environmental performances, at all stages of the supply chain from the sourcing of raw product to final retail.
Responses to these growing pressures have seen the rapid adoption of global environmental standards and management practices, including in the Asia Pacific region.
Many of the world’s biggest corporations are based in the countries with the most stringent requirements, and businesses in Asia and the Pacific will be increasingly obliged to comply with the demands of these multi-national corporations. Recently US seafood company Anova Food and global seafood supplier Culimer BV have expressed their plans to source tuna caught with circle hooks, which reduce the unwanted bycatch of sea turtles by up to 90 percent.
In 2006, the world’s largest retailer, Walmart, pledged that within three to five years it would source all fresh and frozen wild caught seafood from MSC-certified fisheries. Walmart has 1.6 million employees, over 6,000 stores and roughly 60,000 suppliers worldwide. As one of the largest sellers of seafood in the US, and by accessing 57 percent of seafood imports originating from Asia, Walmart has a significant influence over its suppliers globally.
Certification programs are also valuable business assets in tourism sector, where such programs reward operations that exhibit best practices and help differentiate them from those that are less environmentally sound. They also provide consumers with a way to identify tourism businesses they wish to support.
By taking early action to source only responsibly managed resources, and effectively marketing these endeavors, companies can achieve a business advantage in increasingly sophisticated and environmentally aware global and domestic markets.
Without measures to implement best practice environmental management, businesses risk losing market share, access to capital, and the goodwill needed to operate profitably.
Businesses that grow at the expense of the environment are becoming a thing of the past. The Coral Triangle Initiative ushers in a new approach to conservation in the region where the private sector has a vital role in being part of the solution.
How the business world decides to act now will determine whether we can lay the pathway to a safer future in which the Coral Triangle can continue to support millions of people living on the coast and remain the world’s most important marine environment.
James P. Leape is WWF director general and Arthur C. Yap is Philippine Agriculture Secretary.