This summer has been a blur. For seven weeks, I found myself in Quebec City studying French alongside Canadian fisheries policy. I was primarily exploring Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s (DFO) innovative decision to count fisheries closures as the first ‘other effective area-based conservation measure’ (or OECM). OECMs are areas in which biodiversity conservation is not the the primary objective, but still occurs as a result of the management in place. For example, some military restricted areas, protected archaeological sites, and spiritual areas are shown to have high biodiversity values even though that was not the main goal of the establishment of these areas. OECMs will be included as a type of protected area in the future highlighting their potential to increase ecological habitat representation and connectivity, and recognizing the diversity of stakeholders who contribute to conservation areas.
When Canada counted their fisheries closures as OECMs, they also counted them towards their national conservation goals sparking some debate. Conservationists argued that fisheries closures couldn’t be counted as protected areas, because the areas are not implemented for the long term and allow some use. Luckily, while in Quebec, I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Amber Himes-Cornell, a SMEA affiliate professor and principal investigator of OECMS for the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Between meeting with Dr. Himes-Cornell and members of DFO in Montreal, I learned a lot more about the arguments surrounding OECMs. A main factor that was emphasized to me was that there is very little guidance available for defining what an OECM is and determining how to assess it.
At the same time I was in Montreal, the Convention of Biological Diversity’s 22nd Subsidiary Body on Scientific,Technical and Technological Advice (SBSTTA) Meeting was occurring and OECMs happened to be an agenda item. It was at this meeting that an official definition for OECMs was actually drafted. Going forward, this definition, along with associated recommendations and criteria for identifying OECMs, will be reviewed and possibly adopted at the next Conference of the Parties (COP) meeting this November.
From Canada, I went directly to Rome to continue my work on OECMs under the supervision of Dr. Himes-Cornell. Armed with an officially drafted OECMs definition, recommendations, and criteria for assessing and identifying,, I studied the implications, and logistics of counting OECMs towards global conservation goals (namely, 10% of the oceans protected by 2020). Additionally, I worked to interpret the criteria set forth at the SBSTTA meeting in order to clarify what an OECM is and what it is not. I even had the pleasure of grabbing a beer with Eddie while he was visiting the FAO.
Overall, this has been an incredibly memorable summer. I look forward to taking everything I have learned and writing my thesis upon my return to Seattle!