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Ocean Elder Sven Lindblad on why Protecting UNESCO’s Marine World Heritage Is Essential

Last August, the UNESCO’s Marine World Heritage Managers Conference was held on board Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Endeavour, and we were honored to be joined by CEO and Ocean Elder Sven Lindblad. Over the course of the week, Lindblad met with the managers responsible for the day-to-day protection of our common ocean heritage of humanity, sharing the stories behind his commitment to ocean conservation.

Lindblad inherited his love of travel from his father, who decided to get into the travel business because he needed a way to fund his exploration. Ultimately, he realized that travel was a great way to teach people. Lindblad has continued this tradition. For him, protecting the natural world is both a business imperative and a personal passion.

It was an experience in Africa that awakened Lindblad to the power people have over nature, and our responsibility to wield it wisely. As a young man, Lindblad worked in Kenya’s Tsavo National Park. In 1971, he spent a week counting black rhino and found 59 individuals. When he returned a good 10 years later, he couldn’t find a single one. He was struck by the devastating power people have over nature, wiping out an entire rhino population in a decade.

We are seeing similar crises in the ocean, with iconic animals like manatee, bluefin tuna and hammerhead sharks pushed to the brink of extinction, and even our most treasured ocean areas are under pressure from illegal and unsustainable fisheries, climate change, and industrial development. Despite their iconic status, marine World Heritage sites are not immune to these threats.

“For us to have a life where we survive, and thrive financially and spiritually, we need healthy natural systems,” Lindblad told me. “The ocean is under major assault on so many fronts. Acidification, overfishing, rising sea levels, etc.”

The Marine World Heritage Managers conference focused on these very threats, connecting guardians of the world’s flagship marine protected areas with leading fisheries, climate experts as well as ocean leaders such Enric Sala and Daniel Pauly.

 

Sven Lindblad at the UNESCO 3rd World Heritage Marine site manager conference with ocean leader Enric Sala and Alison Barrat from The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation. Photo credit Daniel Correia.
Sven Lindblad at the UNESCO 3rd World Heritage Marine site manager conference with ocean leader Enric Sala and Alison Barrat from The Khaled bin Sultan Living Oceans Foundation.
Photo credit Daniel Correia.

 

Lindblad’s leadership support was vital to the conference, and he immediately recognized the power of convening this global think tank to strategize about shared solutions. Managers of these flagship MPAs have hundreds of thousands of hours of practice on what works and what doesn’t. Bringing them together prevents us from reinventing the wheel each time over and making costly mistakes.

 

Sven Lindblad addresses site managers about the importance of their role as the guardians of the crown jewels of the ocean at the UNESCO 3rd World Heritage Marine site manager conference. Photo credit Andreas Krueger.
Sven Lindblad addresses site managers about the importance of their role as the guardians of the crown jewels of the ocean at the UNESCO 3rd World Heritage Marine site manager conference.
Photo credit Andreas Krueger.
Sven Lindblad receives a token of appreciation at the UNESCO 3rd World Heritage Marine site manager conference. Photo credit Daniel Correia.
Sven Lindblad receives a token of appreciation at the UNESCO 3rd World Heritage Marine site manager conference.
Photo credit Daniel Correia.

 

“One thing about the ocean is that it is potentially this great unifier across borders,” Lindblad said. “The ocean is a connected entity. We call it different things, the Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean, but there really is just one ocean. You don’t really have a scenario with conservation success in one place and failure in another.”

That is precisely why the World Heritage Marine Programme works to facilitate cooperation across boundaries and support marine conservation success at every one of the 49 treasures under our collective care.

 

A map illustrating the global Marine World Heritage network consisting of 49 sites in 37 countries. Click image to enlarge.
A map illustrating the global Marine World Heritage network of 49 sites in 37 countries. Click image to enlarge.

 

As Lindblad knows from his extensive travels, these sites are awe-inspiring. The first glimpse of orcas at Peninsula Valdés, diving in the crystalline Lagoons of New Caledonia, and exploring the otherworldly landscape of the Kvarken Archipelago—those are experiences people remember for their whole lives. It is those experiences that make people care about protecting these unique ocean treasures.

But conservation is not an aesthetic idea for Lindblad. He recognizes the economic and cultural value of places like Coiba National Park and Rock Islands Southern Lagoon. “It is unbelievable how we don’t as societies understand that natural systems are the real world bank,” he says.

 

A collection of images from marine World Heritage sites that Lindblad refers to as the “real world bank.” Photo Credit Mary Bomford, Brian Sullivan, Valeria Mas Gomez, Shutterstock, XL Catlin Seaview Survey, Scottish Natural Heritage, Alexander Gruzdev, Daniel Correia.
A collection of images from marine World Heritage sites that Lindblad refers to as the “real world bank.”
Photo Credit Mary Bomford, Brian Sullivan, Valeria Mas Gomez, Shutterstock,
XL Catlin Seaview Survey, Scottish Natural Heritage, Alexander Gruzdev, Daniel Correia.

 

With support from leaders like Sven Lindblad, we will continue working to protect these shared assets for the benefit of all humankind.

To hear Lindblad’s reflections on the idea of World Heritage and the recent managers conference in the Galapagos, check out this short video:

 

fanny-douvereDr. Fanny Douvere is the coordinator of the Marine Programme at UNESCO’s World Heritage Centre in Paris, France. Since October 2009, her mission is to ensure the 49 marine sites on UNESCO’s World Heritage List are conserved and sustainably managed so future generations can continue to enjoy them. She recently wrote in Nature on why not investing in marine World Heritage is a lost opportunity for the oceans and led UNESCO’s first steps into exploring World Heritage in the High Seas.

Prior to her work at the World Heritage Centre, she co-initiated and led the Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) initative at UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission. In 2009 she co-published the UNESCO guide Marine Spatial Planning: A Step-by-Step Approach Toward Ecosystem-based Management. The guide has gained international recognition for setting a standard for the application of MSP and is available in six languages. She also served as an advisor to the United States Executive Office of the President (Council of Environmental Quality) on the development of the US Framework for Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning.

She co-authored more than 20 articles in internationally peer-reviewed journals on both marine World Heritage and MSP. Most recently, she authored for World Heritage Marine Sites Managing effectively the world’s most iconic Marine Protected Areas. A Best Practice Guide, in which she lays out a tangible approach for marine protected area management based on the fundamental idea that all things happen in time and space and the oceans should be managed accordingly.

Fanny obtained her PhD in 2010 from the Ghent University in Belgium and published the book Marine Spatial Planning: Concepts, current practice and linkages to other management approaches.

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