French-American Climate Talks on Ocean (FACT-O): Marine Protected Areas & Maritime Heritage

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- When: Wednesday 18th and Thursday 19th January 2017
- Where: Mount Vernon, Virginia

After Miami and Washington, the third edition of the French-American Climate Talks on Ocean (FACT-O) took place on January 18-19, 2017 at Mount Vernon, Virginia, where George Washington lived. This event, organized in partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Ocean and Climate Platform and several French and American institutions and agencies working in the environment sector, identified cooperation projects considered to be priorities for the coming months.

Focusing on two themes of ocean sciences, Marine Protected Areas and Underwater Heritage, this workshop addressed global protection of the oceans and highlighted the common challenges for both scientific research and ocean’s governance.

On this occasion, the NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuariesand the France’s Underwater Archaeology Researches Department of the Ministry of Culture (DRASSM) signed a joint declaration to facilitate cooperation and research on underwater heritage (see the specific article). Mr. Serge Ségura, French Ambassador for Oceans, spoke at the opening and closing sessions.

Agenda & Bios

Report of the event

Meeting of French and American specialists on Marine Protected Areas and the Maritime Heritage

The FACT-O initiative is the prolongation of the FACTS initiative (French AmeriCan Climate Talks) launched with for the preparation of COP21 to raise awareness in North-America about the consequences of global warming. FACT-O, launched in a partnership with the Ocean and Climate Platform, is supported by the Institut Français. Unlike the precedent editions, this meeting was intended to specialists directly concerned by the oceans: research organisms and universities, protection agencies, foundations.

Research and protection of oceans: a shared priority on both sides of the Atlantic

With the two most important maritime domains –respectively 22 million and 11 million of km² – France and the United States share a common responsibility to preserve oceans. Our two countries are present in regions where the ecosystems extend far beyond the administrative limits (Antilles, Caribbean’s, Pacific,…). The networking of the means of research, observation and surveillance is of a major interest for the scientists and the agencies in charge of the surveillance and protection of marine species.

The ocean and climate interactions, the question of marine resources and the protection of the Maritimes’ ecosystems are at the heart of the national research strategies in France and in the United States. The creation of marine protected areas (MPA) is one way of ensuring a long term protection of oceans and preserve their biodiversity. With the recent creation of the marine protected area of Clipperton as well as the extension of the natural reserves of Southern territories, 22% of the waters under French jurisdiction are now protected against 3.8% in 2012. For the American coastal waters, this number is equal to 26% with 90% of the MPA located in the Pacific.

The World Heritage’s protection associates since its beginning the notions of protecting nature and the preservation of cultural goods. The protection of oceans embodies perfectly this duality of approach. Oceans are the cradle of ancient cultures and constitute an exceptional reservoir of natural and cultural wealth. The objective of this two day workshop was precisely to tackle in a multidisciplinary way these questions in associating more than 40 maritime biologic, sociologic and economic researchers as well as specialists in the law of the sea or specialist of underwater archeology. The participation of Patricia Ricard, Director of the Oceanographic Institute Paul Ricard, should also be noted, whose mission is to raise public awareness about the protection of Mediterranean Sea and to support young researchers, thanks to the program Take Off (Take Ocean for Future). The Pernod Ricard group has offered a reception to celebrate the signing of the joint declaration on the underwater heritage.

In his opening statement, Mr. Serge Ségura, Ambassador responsible for oceans, recalled that our countries share the same priorities in terms of ocean preservation: the fight against illegal fishing, the protection of biodiversity, the fight against pollution, in particular plastic waste, the protection of cultural heritages, and the respect for the diverse communities whose only resource is the ocean. He emphasized the need to rely on a solid scientific base to define the protection policies regarding the space and
marine species.

The interventions of Nicole Lebœuf and John Armor, respectively Deputy Director of the Department for Ocean Service and Director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Office for marine sanctuaries, show the range of NOAA’s responsibilities (11 300 employees): national service of meteorology, observation satellites, management of maritime and fishing areas, protection policies for coastal and maritime species, research and development on ocean and atmosphere (560 millions of dollars in 2016), public education.

The Caribbean Region was represented by Sandrine Pivard, director of the Regional Activities Center for the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife of the Wider Caribbean Region (CAR/SPAW), under the authority of the United Nations Program for the Environment (UNEP). The CAR/SPAW is based within the Guadeloupe National Park since 2009; the team staff and the operation center are financed by France.

Which science to understand the changes in oceans and to ensure the preservation of the natural and cultural heritage?

After several preparatory meetings, common subjects of interest were selected and three plenary sessions and 4 parallel workshops were planned:

  • Research as a management tool to marine protected areas (MPAs) and inversely, the MPA’s role as an observatory of oceans facing the impacts of climate changes (global warming, acidification,sea level rise, biodiversity losses…)
  • Multidisciplinary approach for the management of MPAs, taking into account the ecological, cultural and economic issues, ensuring the representation of all stakeholders and in particular of the neighboring populations. The French experience was developed by representatives of the Marine Protected Areas Agency (now incorporated in the new French Biodiversity Agency), of the University of Western Brittany, of the CNRS (The National Center for Scientific Research) and the EHESS (School for Advanced Studies in Social Sciences).
  • Evidence from MPA managers and from teams on the ground. This session was devoted to the presentation of the joint experience of surveillance of cetaceans’ population within the MPAs of Agoa on Saint Martin Island in the Indies and of the Stellwagen Bank’s marine sanctuaries of Cape Cod in the Massachusetts Bay.
  • Satellite livestream from the Tara boat navigating in the Pacific in Micronesia. The scientific team of the Tara Expeditions presented the current evaluation campaign to study the biodiversity of the coral reefs and their evolution in response to global warming and to anthropic pressures.
  • The underwater heritage, testimony of our common history. Michel L’Hour, Director of the Department of the Underwater and Sub-Marine Archeologic Researches (DRASSM) and James Delgado, two of the best world specialists of this discipline presented the prosperity of the sub-marine heritage constituted of thousands of wrecks located in French and American territorial seas. James Delgado estimated approximately that there are 4 000 boats located in the marine sanctuaries under American jurisdiction, of which many are French. Part of the discussion addressed a recent discovery, made by a hunter of ship wrecks off the coast of Florida, of vestiges of the Jean-Ribault fleet from the 16th century and of the launching of an exploration program associating French and American teams.

New perspectives for the French and American scientific collaboration on oceans

The marine protected areas, research infrastructure to the service of the world’s community of researchers on climate and oceans

Françoise Gaill reminded us in her introduction the importance of the marine protected areas as an analysis and surveillance tool of global warming. She also reminded us the definition proposed by IUCN: “Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) involve the protective management of natural areas so as to keep them in their natural state. MPAs can be conserved for a number of reasons including economic resources, biodiversity conservation, and species protection. They are created by delineating zones with permitted and non-permitted uses within that zone.”

To better understand the climate and ocean interactions, Françoise Gaill reminded us the importance to work on the global scale for an international network of MPAs. According to the coordinator of the Ocean and Climate Plateforme, the marine protected areas must be considered as full infrastructures that allow us to study the evolution of species, their environment and the interactions between human populations and its environment.

Françoise Gaill presented the project of creating a global alliance on climate and ocean and has invited the NOAA to support this initiative. Lauren Wenzel, director of the Marine Protected Areas for NOAA, expressed her desire to participate in the scientific committee of the Platform and to work together with its members to achieve this ambitious project.

Partnership between France and the United States for research on MPA

As the existing collaboration between the sites of Agoa in Saint Martin and of the Stellwagen Bank in Massachusetts, the managers of MPAs proposed the creation of a partnership between MPA on sister sites located in the Caribbean and the Pacific (Polynesia).

A consensus was reached on the creation of sentinel sites: they constitute observatories to study the rapid changes in progress in the oceans and play the role of sanctuaries for certain species “climate refugees”. They also are a tool to analyze the connectivity and the migrations between different ocean regions.

The director of the MPA at NOAA invited France to pursue and reinforce its engagement in the Big Ocean initiative, global network destined to MPA directors. NOAA further proposed to develop a network of MPAs in the Caribbean based on the Regional Activities Center for the Protocol Concerning Specially Protected Areas and Wildlife of the Wider Caribbean Region (CAR/SPAW). A “concept paper” will be proposed by NOAA to mobilize the 16 countries that have ratified the SPAW protocol.

Being able to share experiences and best practices between managers of MPAs is an objective expressed by several speakers in particular via staff exchange programs between sites. The mobility programs managed by the Office for Science and Technology of the Embassy of France in the United States – Chateaubriand scholarships and French-American Doctoral Exchange – will serve as a support to initiate collaborations.

The French Agency for Protected Marine Areas, now integrated in the French Agency for Biodiversity, has expressed its aim of renewing the collaboration agreement between them and NOAA. The signature of this new agreement could take place during the United Nations Conference on oceans organized from June 5th till June 9th 2017 (Sustainable Development Goal 14). Another important deadline is the next international conference on MPA (IMPAC4, in Chile 4-9/09/2017). NOAA suggested to jointly organize a workshop on capacity buildings for current and future managers of MPAs.

Underwater cultural heritage

With its involvement in the colonization of the American continent and the American independent war, France has left a historical heritage. One of the tangible footprint of the French engagement is the wrecks along the American coast and in the Great Lakes. The same applies to the United States with their engagement in both world wars that led to several shipwrecks of warships in French territorial waters. A darker side of our common history relates to slave traffic which at times led to shipwrecks all along the routes of slave-traders.

The shared maritime heritage between France and the United States is very rich as testifies the led co-operation a few years back to research and exploration of shipwrecks of the CSS Alabama, the La Belle, the Le Griffon, the USS Bonhomme Richard and of course of the Titanic.

This meeting helps to determine priority projects for the underwater archeologists’ community on both side of the Atlantic. The mutual will for collaboration was realized by the signature of a joint declaration on the underwater heritage.

Allocation of resources, scanning means, historical archives

The sovereignty on military shipwreck is organized by International law. The “Sunken Military Act” of 2004 protects the American military shipwrecks wherever they are located as well as the foreign military shipwrecks located in American waters. In this last scenario, the United States ensure the inalienable right of States on ship wrecks and can mobilize, after the approval of the concerned State, the important exploration means available in the federal agencies: NOAA, National Park Service, Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

The example of the Jean Ribault fleet recently discovered off the Florida’s coasts, constitute a case study and illustrates the will of American archeologists and Florida’s authority to work hand in hand with French teams. France will remain in charge of the operations and will lean on the acknowledged expertise of the DRASSM and on the access to the national archives.

On the opposite, when it comes to exploring American wreck remains located in French territorial waters, French archeologists will be able to intervene with the approval of their American colleagues.

New robotic and imagery technologies allow us to consider new forms of collaboration through telepresence: at the image of the observed evolutions in telesurgery, archeologist teams located thousands miles away from concerned sites can now participate from their office and contribute to the researches.

A particular field for future collaboration is to certain ship wrecks of both world wars that contain chemicals that are potentially harmful and pollutant (munitions, mustard gas, neurotoxic, hydrocarbon…). NOAA created a database of 20 000 ship wrecks and registered87 of them as particularly dangerous, the agency then established accident scenarios and intervention plans with the local authorities. The methodology and the developed tools constitute a model that could inspire French authorities.


The meeting of both scientific communities, working on one hand on the protection of the marine biodiversity and on the other hand on the protection of the underwater cultural heritage, allowed to embrace the ocean protection issue at a global scale. Underwater archeology interest marine biologists that observed new species in the artificial cliffs that were constituted of ship wrecks. The attraction aroused from the public for discoveries of ship wrecks is a comparable asset to the one exercised by the observation of space needed for new vocations in favor of the research on oceans and their protection.

Beyond its scientific dimension, this meeting was the occasion to remind French priorities regarding the international governance of oceans. Mr. Serge Ségura, French Ambassador in charge of oceans, thanked the American government for its efforts destined to obtain a commercial fishing moratorium in Arctic (outside the exclusive economic zones). The ambassador emphasized the importance of reaching an agreement on negotiations within the UN framework for the protection of biodiversity in high sea (Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdictions).

Mr. Ségura called for seeking the committed efforts in the context of the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CAMLR); he welcomed the recent decisions of member states to create a marine protected area of 1.55 million km² in the Ross sea with a special protection against the anthropic activities and a fishing interdiction zone for three quarters of this MPA. Finally, he invited the participants to mobilize themselves during the conference on oceans (ODD14) organized by the UN in June 2017.