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Global Estuaries Forum Spotlights Importance of Vulnerable Shoreline Ecosystem

Deauville and Le Havre are located along the Seine estuary in northwestern France, home to a diverse ecosystem and economic and environmental lifeline. The Seine estuary supports trade, fishing, tourism and recreational activities. In order to promote these and other services, mayors of both towns met with environmental experts at the Global Estuaries Forum in Deauville, France this week.

Estuaries also supply vital environmental services, such as filtering pollutants, stabilizing shorelines and preventing erosion. This sophisticated ecosystem also provides habitat for diverse plant and animal species. Unfortunately, growing human demands are exerting an undue burden on estuaries, which threatens their productivity.

The three-day forum brought together global leaders and innovators from various disciplines to explore opportunities and ideas in order to map out plans of action for protecting estuaries.

In the opening panel discussion, Fred Pearce, author of When the Rivers Run Dry, explained that it is not entirely clear who is in charge of estuaries. “Is it locals, fisherman or some collective group? Maybe no one is in charge.” Perhaps that is why there is not a coordinated effort to protect the health of estuaries.

On day two, I moderated a panel discussion on energy and estuaries, which explored ways to protect and maximize local resources. Four panelists contributed different perspectives.

Marc Lafosse launched a new company called Energies de la Lune to help bring renewable marine energy to the forefront of clean energy options. In order to facilitate the commercialization of tidal power, companies need appropriate data to understand the environmental effects. Lafosse’s company allows any marine-related technology to investigate its impact on estuarine environments.

Mikele Brack is a consultant, working on the Energy Systems Catapult in London, which identifies innovative ways for cities to capitalize on efficiency. With a launch date set for next year, the Energy Systems Catapult aims to support developments in storage, micro-grids, smart control of district heating, integration of decentralized and centralized load and supply, and optimize local energy markets. Mikele explained that the key to success on these solutions comes from a sustainable business model.

Gérard Roussel represented the fossil fuel perspective on the panel. In addition to running Normandy’s refinery for Total, he led the risk commission for France’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The share of fossil fuels in the energy mix will slightly decrease over the next two decades, according to the International Energy Agency. However, fossil fuels will still meet the bulk of humanity’s overall energy needs. Recognizing this reality, Roussel described his work on the “industrial eco-park.” His operations create a closed loop system, which is achieved by optimizing efficiency and recycling waste.

Arend van der Goes, a highly experienced development professional, works for SNV Netherlands to regenerate mangrove trees. Mangroves are essential for protection from shore erosion and ocean storm damage. Further, they provide breeding grounds for marine life. In West Africa, mangroves are being decimated for fuel wood use. SNV Netherlands has identified a successful strategy that combines replanting, fuel switching and forest management, in order to restore the mangrove and estuarine environment.

The general message coming from the forum is that estuaries are among the most fertile eco-systems in the world. They also greatly contribute to the global economy. Ninety percent of Europe’s international commerce travels through estuaries and its adjacent ports. This underscores its importance and their vulnerability.

The Global Estuaries Forum signaled a need to rally attention and action around better management of our natural resources. The participation of the Deauville and Le Havre mayors marked the first step in this direction.