In late February, a small team from the ACU visited Antigua as part of a visit by members of the COBE International Steering Committee (ISC) to meet key national and regional stakeholders to discuss the development of the Centre of Excellence for Oceanography and the Blue Economy (COBE).
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda has committed to transitioning to a Blue Economy – reducing overreliance on tourism and supporting sustainable and resilient economic development. A key pillar of this is the establishment of a Centre of Excellence at the University of the West Indies’ Five Islands Campus, strengthening marine science and blue economy education and research across the Eastern Caribbean.
Alongside international partner organisations, including the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), and the Centre for the Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS), the ACU is a member of the ISC and is supporting this project by convening universities from across the Commonwealth and developing the networks and collaborations which underpin research-led solutions.
Members of the ISC convened in Antigua for this five-day visit, to better understand the plans and continued development for COBE at the UWI Five Islands Campus, identify potential partnerships and fundraising opportunities whilst meeting key partners in the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, the blue economy sector, NGOs, and industry representatives.
There was also an opportunity for the delegation to see in person some of the infrastructure that will be integral to the creation of the OBE. The group toured the UWI Five Islands campus, visiting the spaces which will host the teaching and research activity, and met with various university stakeholders to hear about the campus development. The group were also able to tour Antigua and Barbuda’s new port development, with Darwin Telemaque, Port Authority CEO, providing an overview of plans for the dredge zone development.
A highlight of a productive and successful visit was a presentation from the ISC to the Cabinet of the Government of Antigua and Barbuda on COBE’s progress and the resulting joint press briefing with ABS television and radio station.
The presentation resulted in a clear endorsement of the COBE project from the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, and commitment from the Prime Minister to support its vision, noting it would be key in supporting efforts to transition to a blue economy and providing a sustainable basis for economic diversity; supporting economic and sustainable development in the nation and region.
Prime Minister, Honourable Gaston Browne stated:
“There is no doubt that the provision of quality and diverse educational opportunities has always ranked among the top priorities hence, our firm and unwavering support for the establishment of COBE is predicated on our holistic vision to provide easier access to quality training and new knowledge at a tertiary level for our people. Given the fact that the nation of Antigua and Barbuda is such a vast ocean state and the growing interest in blue economy related subject areas, the establishment of the COBE is indeed very timely and advantageous.”
On receiving the endorsement of the Prime Minister, Dr Joanna Newman, Secretary General of the ACU responded:
“The ACU is pleased to be working with ACU member The University of the West Indies, the Government of Antigua and Barbuda and ISC partners on this important project, and we look forward to harnessing the potential of the ACU’s international network of 500 universities across the Commonwealth and developing the partnerships and collaborations which underpin research-led solutions to support a more sustainable future for the Caribbean region.”
Over the course of the week, the group also met with a number of key national and regional government and political stakeholders whose input will be key in the development of COBE, including officials from the Government Ministries of Blue Economy, Environment, Foreign Affairs, and Education, the Ocean Governance and Fisheries committee, and the OECS Commission.
The group were pleased to also have chance to speak with a number of civil society groups and NGO’s and hear how the COBE could algin with the priorities of local initiatives and build on existing local knowledge. They met groups including the Marine Ecosystems Protected Area Trust (MEPA), Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB), Antigua and Barbuda Development Bank (ABDB), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), St John’s Development Corporation (SJDC), WAITT Institute, Blue Halo Project, Global Environment Fund, Environmental Awareness Group, and GEF Small Grants Programme.
Dr Hardman-Mountford, Commonwealth Secretariat Head of Oceans and Natural Resources said:
“The Commonwealth Secretariat has been privileged to assist Antigua and Barbuda with their ocean priorities over the last decade, making it a leading nation in the region in defining its maritime boundaries and establishing strong ocean governance. The transition to a sustainable blue economy is the next step on this journey, and as co-champion of the Commonwealth Blue Charter Action Group on the Sustainable Blue Economy, the nation will be able to share valuable knowledge and experiences with fellow Commonwealth countries. Establishing the COBE in Antigua will provide a real boost in achieving this vision.”
The ACU concluded our visit with a meeting with the Resident British Commissioner Lindsy Thompson, and a visit to The American University of Antigua, another ACU member in Antigua.
The Government of Antigua and Barbuda and all other stakeholder’s commitment to supporting COBE’s development puts it in a strong position with a strategic alignment with the needs of national, regional and international organisations. As the ISC prepares to support the next stage of the COBE’s creation, the visit gives ISC members a clear steer on how to now approach the partnership and funding opportunities that support this.
As the oldest university network in the world, with many members from island states on the frontline of climate change, the ACU is uniquely placed to convene university partners from across the Commonwealth in support of this ambition. A mapping exercise by the Association of Commonwealth Universities to scope interest in this project in 2020 elicited responses from 70 individuals at member universities, with representation from every global region.
The Pro Vice Chancellor for Global Affairs at The University of the West Indies, Dr. Stacy Richards-Kennedy, said “The UWI is fully committed to building robust partnerships that will not only strengthen the foundation for the COBE, but also facilitate the execution of the roadmap to its full establishment. By working in concert, the ISC brings tremendous value and will support the achievement of the objectives of the Centre.”
Following the scoping mission to Antigua, the ACU will be contacting interested universities to identify opportunities to get involved in the work of COBE.