Fijian policymaker calls for an ‘inspired’ defence of world oceans

Spawning kawaka
Spawning kawaka (grouper) ... "collective action for the ocean". Image: RNZ/Paul McKenzie/4FJ

RNZ Pacific

The global community needs to “be inspired” to defend the world’s oceans ahead of the second United Nations Oceans Conference in Lisbon at the end of the month, a Fijian policymaker says.

Fisheries Minister Semi Koroilavesau said the Pacific could not protect its greatest resource through advocacy and action on its own.

Safeguarding the ocean and its resources against future dangers “to make it truly sustainable” will require the “entire world” to show more commitment, Koroilavesau said.

A former Navy commander and a self-professed marine advocate, he believes Pacific people’s future will be secured if “we will take whatever actions we must take”.

There are “enormous challenges before us and we need to turn our hopes into genuine ambition” to boost ocean action in the Blue Pacific, he told participants attending the World Oceans Day celebrations in Suva on Wednesday.

“As stewards of the Ocean, our task is to lead, to be a beacon of Blue leadership that inspires the world to turn away from the model of development that harms our ocean and threatens to strip off our life given resources,” he said.

This year’s theme for the international day — marked annually on June 8 — is “Revitalisation: Collective Action for the Ocean”.

Collaboration called for
Koroilavesau said it calls for “wider commitment” and urged stakeholders to collaborate to realise the changes necessary to protect the ocean.

“Our shared commitment towards collaboration will inspire and ignite actions that will certainly benefit us and our future generations,” he said, adding “the health and wellbeing of the Pacific Ocean and “the state of our climate are an interconnected system.”

The Pacific Ocean spans approximately 41 million square kilometres and is a fundamental part of the livelihoods and identity of the Pacific people.

Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) deputy director-general Dr Filimon Manoni said the ocean was at the heart of the region’s geography and its cultures.

“It’s all we have…[and] all we return to in times of need, either for daily sustenance, for economic development, and nation building aspirations,” Dr Manoni said.

“We are inextricably linked to the ocean in all aspects of our everyday life.”

The ocean is home to almost 80 percent of all life on Earth. But its state is in decline, as it faces a range of threats due to human activity.

Critical year for the ocean
“Its health and ability to sustain life will only get worse as the world population grows and human activities increase,” the United Nations has said.

This year 2022, therefore, is regarded as a critical year for the ocean and an opportunity to reset the global ocean agenda at the Portugal conference.

This week, regional stakeholders gathered in Suva during the fourth Pacific Ocean Alliance (POA) meeting convened by the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner (OPOC) to prepare for the UN conference.

The gathering was scheduled to align with the World Oceans Day to drive regional and global awareness of the region’s priorities for global ocean action, according to OPOC.

Over two days, the alliance aimed to identify the collective priorities for ocean action and approaches to drive global support.

Ocean’s Commissioner and Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-General Henry Puna said “much has evolved” since the last time the Alliance met in 2019, prior to the covid-19 pandemic.

Puna said the region now finds itself “in a much more contested and challenging environment…faced with heightened geostrategic competition” as it “navigates the impacts of a global pandemic”.

Ocean health still suffers
“Yet the health of our ocean and indeed our planet continues to suffer as a result of climate change and other anthropogenic depressions,” he said.

“This challenging context will place significant pressure on our ability to realise our political and sustainable development aspirations.”

Several high-level ocean-related events have already been held this year with the Our Ocean Conference in Palau in April and the One Ocean Conference hosted by France in May.

Puna is expecting the conversations held during the POA meeting will strengthen the Pacific’s collective vision to conserve and sustainably use the world’s oceans and marine resources.

“I am hopeful that this gathering of the POA will provide an opportunity for us all to share our experiences and reflect on how we can work together, how we can collaborate and engage better, and how we can do more to ensure the health and survival of our ocean,” he said.

The UN Oceans Conference will be held from June 27 to July 1.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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