Jul 24, 2019 Last Updated 4:27 AM, Jul 24, 2019

Harnessing traditional knowledge of the oceans in a way that isn’t exploitative or tokenistic is emerging as a strong theme at a regional ocean meeting currently underway in Noumea.

Scientists, policy makers and others with an interest in oceans management are meeting at the Pacific Community to plan for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030.

The Director of the Oceania Centre for Arts, Culture and Pacific Studies at the University of the South Pacific, Frances Koya, said the very premise of the UN decade and all Sustainable Development Goal frameworks need to be questioned first.

“When we unpackage the conversation about the Blue Pacific identity, the blue economy and the blue continent, it is very much an economic agenda,” she said.

“We will need to invest in research that examines indigenous understandings of sustainability, sustainable livelihoods, custodianship, stewardship and of course, resilience. Not just ecological resilience but a holistic, multidisciplinary understanding of what resilience means to us.”

Koya says we need to be vigilant about what another speaker described as ‘parachute researchers’.

“How can we ensure that we do not perpetuate extractive research and development practice, of taking from indigenous communities and knowledge systems to strengthen western models of good practice, that is culture and indigenous knowledge and participation solely for an outside agenda? We will need to be mindful for the need for very difficult conversations about meaningful participation, intellectual property rights and copyright in the context of collective cultural knowledge, shared and mutual gains and benefits, protective safeguarding mechanisms and legislature.”

Fiji’s Patrina Dumaru, who is a geography lecturer at USP reinforced this message, saying in her own research she very quickly learnt ,“you can’t really create behavioural change without appealing to the belief systems and the customary practices and values of the communities which you work with.

“I have worked with some great scientists who have appreciated this, but who also had challenges in interacting in that kind of environment.”

She appealed to scientists to think about how they can make their work relevant at the community level.

“ It is great to be innovative in your labs in the universities that you work in, but our relevance will be what kind of change is going to happen on the ground.”

A Pacific Youth Council representative at the meeting, Tyler Rae Chung, said learning traditional navigation techniques and ways of being with the ocean, brought me back to my grassroots to understand that it is not just about extracting information from the ocean, but it’s also about understanding that there was indigenous knowledge before us.”

She appealed to participants to think about how they can work with young people during the ocean decade through a mentoring-monitoring program.

“It would be great to see what we can offer the next generation of leaders in terms of education assistance and building their capacity from grassroots levels to indigenous knowledge because it all comes back to the people as well as scientific knowledge.”

The Noumea meeting is the first of a series of regional meetings around the world to plan a scientific research agenda for the Ocean Decade. It continues today.

You are able to enjoy independent news coverage from the Ocean Decade conference through SPC’s Australian funded Climate and Ocean Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac).

“We are failing, but we have not yet failed. There is still time in the next ten years to turn things around. It’s our last chance. And our survival as a species depends on the health of the oceans.”

 This is the rallying cry of the Pacific Community’s Oceans Manager, Jens Kruger on the eve of a meeting of scientists, government representatives, policy makers, civil society organisations, community representatives and academics to plan for the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.

Despite a long list of threats to the ocean—including sea level rise, habitat destruction, coral bleaching, acidification, overfishing, deoxygenation and deep-sea mining, many of which are detailed in the inaugural Global Ocean Science Report—Kruger is optimistic there is still time to turn things around.

“In the Pacific we live with the ocean and by the ocean, and we derive our life from the ocean, so it’s a subject that is very important to us and we need to  bring everyone else in the world along on that journey to improve the health of the ocean.

“I’m optimistic that we can look towards science to provide some of those solutions that we need to tackle and be innovative. We realise that business as usual is not going to be good enough so the decade really tries to be transformative.”

The diversity of participants at the meeting reflects an approach that defines science in the broadest sense.

“We know that we can’t just have pure science or physical science in the decade. For example, for us in the Pacific, culture and arts is very important and policy is not just informed by science but also by social science,” Kruger says.

“We recognise that traditional knowledge sits alongside science and can provide really good innovative approaches to tackling some of the issues.”

The UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development will begin in 2021 and is intended to ensure ocean science can support countries to meet their 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, those relating to conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources. The Noumea meeting is the first of 8-10 similar gatherings that will be held around the world to create action plans as part of these coordinated global efforts.

Samantha Magick’s story has been developed as part of the Pacific Community Workshop on the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development 2021-2030. This was made possible through SPC’s Australian funded Climate and Ocean Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac). COSPPac works to help translate ocean science that is critical and relevant to the Pacific region to better inform evidence based decision making for our climate and oceans

from the Acting Director General of SPREP, Mr Stuart Chape

World Oceans Day has been celebrated each year since 1992.  We have witnessed increasing world attention on our oceans, particularly in the face of extreme climate impacts, alarming pollution loads and competition for ocean resources.

World Oceans Day 2018 in the Pacific has particular significance for us.  The Pacific is celebrating the International Year of the Reef (IYOR) 2018 and Pacific Year of Coral Reefs (PYOCR) 2018-2019 and our 25th Year Anniversary.   Coral reefs are a critical part of the ocean world in which we live.   They support a major part of our daily subsistence needs and economies; they provide a living wall of protection from ocean waves; and much of our cultural identity is linked with our reefs and ocean.  SPREP and our partners have several activities underway in 2018 and 2019 to campaign for coral reefs and assist our member countries in strengthening coral reef management capacity.

On World Oceans Day we recognise the immense beauty and values of the Ocean, but also remind ourselves of the immense work needed to address the increasing problems of climate change, ocean warming, ocean acidification, over-extraction of resources and the impacts these all have on coral reefs, fisheries, biodiversity and a host of other biological and ecological processes in our Ocean.  

The degradation and loss of coral reefs means reduced protection of our coastal areas, declining fish for food security and lowered resilience of our island communities and economies.  We are all contributors to these impacts, and each of us are affected in some way, so we should all be involved in designing and implementing joint solutions towards regaining a healthy Pacific Ocean.    What we do on land directly affects the waters and life in our coastal and ocean environments. SPREP and our partner organisations in the Pacific are working towards improving multi-sectoral governance and integrated management of our islands and ocean, where holistic thinking and solutions are needed to re-build ocean health.

2018 is also a year when the world has focussed on marine debris and marine plastics, with several countries recognising the hidden impacts of micro-plastics on the ocean.  Plastics, heavy metals and other pollutants are consumed by marine organisms, with numerous lethal and other impacts. These impacts eventually reach humans as well through the fish we consume. Other species of conservation importance like sea turtles and whales are caught in discarded or abandoned fishing gear, and usually suffer slow, cruel deaths.

As the Pacific region's inter-governmental organisation for the environment, SPREP with its partners assists its member countries and territories to better manage and conserve their ocean resources through programmes and projects on best practice island and coastal zone management, marine spatial planning, marine protected area management, coral reef management and monitoring, invasive marine species management, conservation of threatened and migratory marine species such as sea turtles and whales, waste management and pollution control.  Our role extends to assisting countries in building their resilience to impacts of climate change, including ocean warming, ocean acidification, sea level rise and more.

I encourage all of you to celebrate the magnificence and importance of oceans today, but to use this moment to inspire discussion on how we can all better use the oceans, helping each other in protecting the health of our oceans.  We can each do more, such as being careful not to over use our ocean resources and to not abuse our ocean habitats with thoughtless dumping of our wastes and pollutants.  These and much more, are some of the things we must do not only on World Oceans Day, but from this day forward.

I want to acknowledge all those people who are working to help re-build the health of our oceans, and wish everyone a memorable World Oceans Day for 2018.

Know our ocean

An Opinion-Editorial by Meg Taylor, DBE, Secretary General, Pacific Islands Forum and Pacific Ocean Commissioner

This week we are all encouraged to know our ocean as the world marks World Ocean Day on the 8th June. As Pacific Islanders, we have a strong connection to our oceanic continent. Our totems are largely sea or land animals, and our coastal communities practiced ‘taboo’ over their fishing grounds way before the outside world entered our sphere. We can be proud of our intimate connection with the natural world around us.

However, humanity has not treated our oceans well. They are in great trouble and urgent action is required.

As stewards of the Pacific Ocean, the largest of the planets ocean systems, we have a great responsibility to take up this challenge – for ourselves and for our children and future generations.

To the children and youth of our Blue Pacific continent, I say know your ocean. It is the source of life for so many of us. Human activity is damaging our marine resources and we must act now.

Garbage in our ocean

Each year, humanity pours its trash into waterways and rivers without a second thought of what happens after they discard their rubbish. Much of this ends up in the ocean, where, for example, more than eight (8) million tonnes of harmful plastic waste ends up annually.

The world’s five ocean systems have been likened to “lungs” for our planet. For our community of ocean states, the Pacific Ocean is a source of both food and income; it has connected us in the past, and continues to do so today. The ripples of our ocean reach the shores of four continents. These connections are essentially pathways through which rubbish end up in our ocean of islands.

Studies affirm that plastic comprise 90 per cent of the visible debris floating in the Pacific Ocean. Invisible pollutants include sewerage, fertilizer runoff, etc. Another pollutant that our ocean of islands have had to deal with is nuclear waste. There are Pacific Islands Forum members, who continue to deal with the legacy of past nuclear testing.

We are ocean

We are inextricably linked because of the Pacific Ocean: our cultural practices and languages have similarities: it was the ocean that facilitated ancestral linkages and it calls on us again today, as individuals and as communities to do all we can to reverse the state it is in now.

The ocean has always been core to Pacific Islands Forum’s deliberations; in fact, the United Nations Law of the Sea was a point of discussion during the historic first meeting of the Forum in 1971. Through the Forum, the Pacific region has a collaborative and integrated ocean management system in place.

The Pacific has two primary ocean policy instruments that Pacific Leaders have endorsed: the Pacific Islands Regional Ocean Policy (2002) and the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape (2010). The Policy promotes “sustainable development, management and conservation of marine and coastal resources in the Pacific region” through five guiding principles based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. The Framework, amongst other things, established of the role of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner.

Our Leaders have so far played a significant leadership role in advancing a global Ocean policy; we have negotiated a global common cause on oceans that has resulted in global best practice, as reflected in the SAMOA Pathway, as well as a standalone Sustainable Development Goal on Oceans (SDG14).

As agencies of the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP), we continue to facilitate the Pacific development agenda. I acknowledge our development partners who continue to support the implementation of development aspirations that will make a difference to all Pacific peoples.

Healthier ocean pledge

Make a pledge today for healthier oceans.

We share one ocean, we benefit from it immensely, from food on our tables to our economies as Forum members, and I believe we should feel some sense of responsibility for its well-being. The Ocean is our home and will be key for our children’s and young people’s future.

I appeal specifically to our children and young people: actively pursue a healthier ocean. You can pledge never to use materials that are not recyclable like single-use plastics. A sustainable alternative could be woven baskets for shopping and/or marketing.

Let us work together to preserve it. Support environmental protection and conservation efforts in your communities and countries. Advocate for positive policies and actions.

It may seem like a big responsibility but it is one I encourage you all to step forward and meet. Ripples of change from our shores have made global impact before, and we can do the same for our ocean, and our Blue Pacific identity.

READING through the world’s pledges for the protection of our oceans during the first-ever Oceans Conference that Fiji and Sweden co-chaired at the United Nations headquarters in New York in June, one could easily be lulled into thinking that our oceans have been saved finally. Members of the UN by the end of the five-day meeting had made a total of 1372 commitments towards ocean protection and marine conservation, keeping in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

These commitments are purely voluntary and not legally binding. Even the Call to Action declaration released as the conference’s outcome document could only “call on stakeholders” to remember their voluntary pledges and see to their implementations “on an urgent basis.” The Dominican Republic has the largest number of voluntary pledges about the ocean at 43. Fiji as co-host submitted 16. Its bigger neighbours of Australia and New Zealand put up 20 and 22 commitments respectively on saving the ocean and its resources.

Conservation measures directed at the South Pacific Ocean totalled 313. The North Atlantic Ocean had the most, some 449 voluntary commitments. Protection of marine species such as sharks, sting rays, turtles, whales, dolphins and spawning groupers were among the voluntary pledges that Fiji submitted. It also announced nationwide plans to reduce the use of plastic bags, and put in place a strategy to protect its coastlines from storm surges and land loss.

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