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19-04-2024 10:05

Opening remarks by the Minister of Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, Dr Maria Panayiotou, at the inaugural Commonwealth Ocean Ministers Meeting (COMM)

Your Excellency Commonwealth Secretary General,

Honourable Ministers and Heads of Delegations,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is a privilege and an honour to welcome you to the inaugural Commonwealth Ocean Ministers Meeting, here in this legendary birthplace of the goddess Aphrodite, which lies on the adjacent beautiful coastline of Cyprus. I would like to begin by expressing my sincere gratitude to all of you for gathering here today to share our experiences and our progress towards our common goals and to put forward our principles, priorities and actions to shape the future of ocean governance within the Commonwealth. We strongly believe that Commonwealth countries can work together, collaboratively, acknowledging “Our resilient common ocean” and to carry forward this momentum leading towards the drafting of the Commonwealth Ocean Declaration, a significance joint commitment towards achieving healthy and resilient Ocean.

Throughout human history, our survival and prosperity were connected with the fate of the oceans which are the source of all life on Earth and supporting the richest biodiversity. Moreover, millions of people rely directly on marine biodiversity and resources for their livelihoods. Oceans have been a significant food source since prehistoric times and have supported our survival and prosperity for thousands of years through fishing, aquaculture, transport, tourism, recreation and not only.

However, all these benefits provided by our seas and oceans are under thread from our human activities.


The Mediterranean Sea, where Cyprus is lying, hosts a wide range of unique and diverse marine life and is considered as one of the 25 global biodiversity recognised centres. Being a semi-enclosed sea, the Mediterranean, home to more than 17,000 marine species, is also characterised by the highest rate of endemism globally with 20-30% of endemic species.

The conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity underpins sustainable development in the region and is essential to maintain healthy and productive ecosystems for the current and future generations. Today, the Mediterranean faces multiple challenges due to unprecedented biodiversity loss arising from overfishing, habitat destruction, intensive urbanisation and tourism, overexploitation of resources, maritime transport, pollution and climate change. The Mediterranean is also particularly vulnerable to the introduction of non-indigenous marine species, several of which are characterised as invasive and cause significant problems for native species and habitats.

The protection of our seas and oceans can only be achieved through global and regional cooperation. At an international level, the Convention of Biological Diversity provides the necessary tools for the creation of Marine Protected Areas to reach the protection of 30% of Ocean. In parallel to this international process, there is a number of regionally focused initiatives deriving from regional conventions or institutions, like the European Union. For example, in the Mediterranean, Specially Protected Areas are established under the framework of the Barcelona Convention, while the European Aquis provides for the establishment of a network of marine Natura 2000 protected sites.

Towards that direction, Cyprus is implementing several actions to alter biodiversity loss and degradation and to ensure the protection of vital ecosystems by establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), which is very promising but challenging as well. The sustainable management and protection of marine and coastal ecosystems, including the strengthening of their resilience, is crucial in order to avoid significant adverse impacts and achieve healthy and productive oceans. To this direction, we have designated marine areas under various protection regimes including offshore MPAs, achieving about 19% of protection of our marine waters, including our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and contributing significantly to the 30 X 30 Target. We have set fisheries and maritime restrictions to some MPAs, aiming to recover fish stocks and to protect endangered emblematic species such as marine turtles (Chelonia mydas & Caretta caretta) and Mediterranean monk seal, Monachus monachus.

It is well known that fish stocks in the Mediterranean have been declining for decades. 75% of Mediterranean and Black Sea stocks, for which validated assessments are available, are fished at biologically unsustainable levels and despite recent efforts, the situation is not improving. Immediate measures and actions needed to be established to alter the decline of the stocks and ensure the sustainability of fisheries sector in the Mediterranean Sea.

Last but not least, seas and oceans are still largely unexplored and many knowledge gaps on marine processes and the impact of human activities on the complex marine ecosystem should be addressed. There is a need to deepen our knowledge to provide the scientific basis for protecting them effectively. A major challenge in the coming years will be to improve and enrich our scientific knowledge.

Towards this challenge, Cyprus implemented research studies on seafloor mapping, with special emphasis on mapping of sensitive habitats, such as Posidonia meadows and other important marine habitats in all of our coastal waters. Furthermore, a research survey with high resolution mapping was undertaken at the deep sea, namely at the Eratosthenes Seamount in the Cyprus EEZ, in order to identify potential presence of sensitive habitats. All this significant acquired data is vital for our marine biodiversity protection strategy and essential for our integrated ecosystem-based management.


I believe that our common vision for sustainable oceans can be achieved through building of strong commitments and solid coordinated actions for the conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity and resources. Our future depends on our ambitions, our commitments for a common vision, to set up the ground for our first Commonwealth Ocean Declaration and to build up the roadmap from Cyprus to Samoa for our resilient common oceans.

Thank you for your attention!