8th BioMarine International Business Convention
1-3 oct 2017, Rimouski Qc, Canada View Location

Oct 29

Pr Manuel Pinto de Abreu, Secretary of State of the Sea, Portuguese Government

Portugal is a European Maritime Nation. It has been so almost since its foundation. We are proud of our oceanic feats and glories spanning almost 900 years, but history is especially important to learn from both achievements and mistakes. We are interested in the future. And our future lays in the Atlantic, within our EEZ, one of the largest in the world occupying 1.7million sq km and our extended continental shelf beyond the 200NM, for which Portugal delivered its submission to the CLCS at the UN in 2009. With these marine areas Portugal becomes 98% Atlantic Ocean. More to the point, these figures mean about 98% of opportunity.

The Portuguese Ocean is as diverse as one could possibly ask for. From the geologically active sites on the Mid Atlantic Ridge with its associated hydrothermal fields, many, we are certain, yet to be located, to the abyssal plains and to the numerous seamounts, all teeming with life. To name but a few, we have already mapped breathtaking sponge field habitats, reefs covered with corals, shallow water ecosystems with an amazing biodiversity and hydrothermal vent communities thriving in the depths where no light reaches.

Nonetheless, much is still to be explored. In fact, only a few spots of the oceans have been sampled. Portugal is committed to continue and to increase its scientific programs concerning the oceans, comprising, among others, hydrographic surveys, geological and geophysical research, biodiversity and ecosystem characterization and stock assessments. The main reasons for this commitment are, I believe, well known, but let me review some of them:

    • First of all there is knowledge, and the reward of a better understanding the world we live in. The need to understand has been the major drive of humanity’s development and this is especially true nowadays in the knowledge based economy which we live in.
    • Studying the ocean and the seabed is a hard task because of the remoteness of some of its places and of the extreme conditions that most of the time are involved. Thus technology development is essential within this context. And with new technologies, new and unforeseen benefits and economic development are being discovered.
    • Of course, it is information, knowledge and understanding together with the right technologies that allow the exploitation of natural resources. How can one ever benefit from our marine resources without knowing which and where they are and without being in possession of the technical and technological capabilities to access them? Science provides the answers to this question.
    • Last, but not least, the exploitation of marine resources must be sustainable. Long past is the time when Humankind thought that the oceans had an infinite carrying capacity. In order to guarantee that we benefit from the full potential of the oceans’ resources we must guarantee that the ecosystem services they provide remain totally operational, otherwise this fountain of wealth will dry. One needs to adopt conservation measures concerning marine biodiversity and habitats so we can keep becoming ever more affluent. And now we have come full circle back to scientific knowledge. In fact, in order to protect one must know what there is to be preserved.

The oceans are the cradle of life and therefore of our remotest forefathers but they still have very much to offer us. There is no question that many resources remain untapped within the oceans, resources that promise many benefits and wellbeing for Humanity. Most obviously there are energetic resources such as oil and natural gas, and the promising gas hydrates lying on the deep ocean floor, not to mention all the possibilities associated with renewable energy sources; there are many mineral resources, with a special emphasis on rare earth materials, that are becoming scarce on dry land and on which our current technology crucially depends; but the true riches of the ocean are its living resources:

    • As a source of food, through fishing;
    • Even as some of the fishing stocks worldwide are becoming overexploited or at least not large enough to meet the demand, the alternative is still provided by the oceans by means of aquaculture;
    • Fish and shellfish aquaculture, but also algae aquaculture, which may well hold the key for future food supply;
    • Aquaculture also promises to deliver a partial solution to Humanity’s energy demands through biofuel producing algae;
    • The true gifts and riches from the oceans will come from Marine Genetic Resources and their uses through Blue Biotechnology:
      • Cosmetics consumer products are already a reality;
      • Drugs that cure Human ailments have already been developed and many more remain untapped in the depths;
      • New enzymes that will improve industrial processes from innovative materials to food and food supplements production;
      • But what is still to be discovered in the life that the oceans harbor will certainly change the world as we know it with unforeseen applications and consequences. Here we can only speculate, but consider, for example, the organisms living in deep hydrothermal vent fields under gigantic pressures, high water temperatures, where sunlight never reaches, with entire ecosystems based on chemosynthesis. How many marvels will we derive from them? Or consider this glassy sponge that through natural selection has developed fiber-optics like tissues that in some respects are of higher quality than human made ones. We have much indeed to learn and to benefit from life in the oceans.

In Blue Biotechnology and its uses and applications of Marine Genetic Resources lies the future.

Marine Genetic Resources must be understood in the sense defined by the Convention on Biological Diversity as marine «genetic material of actual or potential value».

Many coastal countries worldwide are still working on the regulation regime of their Marine Genetic Resources, but it is especially important to arrive to a common understanding for Marine Genetic Resources and their bioprospecting and exploitation in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction.
Several pertinent questions come to mind with respect to Marine Genetic Resources in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction:

    • How to regulate access and at the same time guarantee equal opportunities for the ones involved or/and interested in these resources?
    • Should there be any access restrictions?
    • What kind of model should be implemented for bioprospecting, exploitation and commercialization?
    • What types of benefits do Marine Genetic Resources entail? Which, if any, and how should these benefits be shared?
    • Can bioprostecting and exploitation of Marine Genetic Resources have adverse environmental impacts?
    • How does bioprostecting and exploitation of Marine Genetic Resources interact with the other natural resources, living and non-living, of the oceans?
    • How to guarantee a sustainable exploitation of Marine Genetic Resources? Is there a need for management plans and conservation measures?
    • What are the social and ethical implications of the use of Marine Genetic Resources originating in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction?

Many of these questions remain without a clear and consensual answer, and we will have to work hard in order to come to a satisfactory solution.
It is clear that the legal framework for Marine Genetic Resources in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction is the UNCLOS.
But the concept of Marine Genetic Resources is not considered, either implicitly or explicitly, within UNCLOS. Quite understandably so, as the interest in Marine Genetic Resources and awareness of their scientific, technological, economic and environmental and social implications only began to develop long after the adoption of the Convention.
Thus a comprehensive legal, institutional and governance regulation for Marine Genetic Resources in Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction must be established by means of an implementing agreement of the UNCLOS. It will not be an easy task, but we need to arrive to common ground on this subject, and, I am certain, so we shall.

Thank you!