The Youth for Marine Protected Areas (Youth4MPAs) held the first-ever virtual African Youth Summit in August 2021, an opportunity for over 500 youth from across the African Continent to come together over two days and unpack ocean protection from an African perspective.
The summit was conceived by the youth, for the youth, with the objective of designing an inclusive platform that facilitated meaningful engagement related to Ocean Protection on the African Continent.
Throughout the summit, youth led and engaged in sessions with experts and other youth leaders in the marine conservation, policy, campaigning, and creative arts professions in a concerted effort to identify and develop tailor-made solutions for Africa’s marine space, its people, and future generations.
The youth networks from the African Youth Summit have together developed this unified statement from the 2-day discussions, to echo the voices of Africa’s youth, calling our African and global leaders beyond to take urgent action to secure a healthy future for our planet.
African Youth Summit – Official Statement of Africa’s Youth
Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are invaluable conservation tools that provide safe havens and protection for marine life from extractive and destructive human activities, acting as a buffer against climate change and enhancing food security for the world’s populations. These areas not only drive ocean recovery and promote ocean resilience but also help to sustain the economic, ecological, and social services that the ocean provides for human populations.
The Youth of Africa, therefore, believe that ocean protection should be kept top of mind and that all stakeholders should act with greater urgency and accountability. This includes governments, policy makers, industry, private sectors, businesses, scientists, and general public, and vitally, the youth – the planetary guardians of tomorrow.
We are all facing a rapidly changing climate and alarming loss of biodiversity; therefore, support is urgently required for ambitious global targets and tailor-made, action-orientated solutions that improve ocean protection for the African continent. It is now well-recognised that the global 30×30 target (highly and effectively protecting 30% of the global ocean by 2030) of protecting our oceans is not only important for the long-term health of our oceans, but also a target that needs to be implemented immediately to prevent further degradation and collapse of these ecosystems.
To achieve this vision in the soonest possible time, we, the Youth of Africa believe there are some critical considerations for leaders and policy makers to acknowledge and act decisively on, as listed below:
- The achievement of ambitious targets for ocean protection is imperative and urgent, and 30% by 2030 is a vital target that must be fast-tracked along with other critical targets such as sustainable use of natural resources outside MPAs, restoration of degraded ecosystems and equitable benefit-sharing. A suite of synergistic ambitious targets needs to be met to heal our oceans.
- We must meet the urgency for ocean protection in a just, and equitable way. We have less than a decade to reverse biodiversity loss for the people and the planet. Planning and implementation of the 30×30 target must be approached from a global perspective, and within Africa, from a continental perspective so that we can aim to protect as much critical marine biodiversity as possible, with the least impact on people’s livelihoods, particularly vulnerable communities who depend on coastal resources for their livelihoods.
- Effective protection and conservation ultimately begin at a local level, and it is imperative that our leaders acknowledge the local socio-economic factors, prior to the establishment and implementation of MPAs. For effective implementation of MPAs, all stakeholders, especially our leaders need to ensure inclusive and effective stakeholder engagement and consultation processes, means to improve leadership at the local level, actions required for legal compliance and enforcement, greater transparency when reporting on MPAs, and the diversity of needs of individual local communities.
- We believe that efforts to effectively increase ocean protection with people in mind, can be greatly supported through locally managed marine areas (LMMAs). The knowledge and management systems of coastal communities, who since time immemorial have used and valued the marine environment, should receive greater acknowledgement, and combined with scientific research for the effective management of marine ecosystems. Our leaders need to listen deeply to the concerns, ideas and aspirations of all community members and should increase their efforts to empower local communities get more involved. As we strive ahead, we also need to be cognisant of the need for, and importance of upskilling all stakeholders, and especially custodian communities.
- A powerful tool to ensure the longevity of MPAs and to increase their effectiveness would be the development of sustainable financing mechanisms for MPAs, from which benefits are justly and equitably shared among all stakeholders. The African continent is a developing one, with a limited availability of financial support for conservation efforts. However, we believe that this should not be seen as a limiting factor to our progress in urgently increasing ocean protection. Rather it should serve as a catalyst for us to engage in multi-sector collaboration to develop novel and effective financial mechanisms for MPAs.
- Recognition of and inclusion of the needs and constraints of individual countries into global policies and legislation, and realisation of global financial plans to support target achievement, such that effective implementation of marine protection on the ground is ensured.
In closing, the Youth of Africa are a tremendous resource for our continent and represent powerful agents for change. Upskilling all youth, regardless of gender, age, race, and creed; in marine conservation both academically and professionally will prove powerful in their journey to becoming true leaders of a better tomorrow. There has been tremendous growth on our continent with youth being granted the opportunity to build their capacity, learn from experts and to share their knowledge with each other. We are committed to continuing our drive for ocean protection and human wellbeing and to work alongside all stakeholders in efforts of increasing ocean protection for Africa, now and into the future.
The above statement includes as wide a representation of voices as possible, but we will continue to build our network, work together as youth of Africa, to share our knowledge and perspectives, to grow each other and to combine our efforts for improved, effective, and equitable ocean protection on our continent for we are one ocean.