World Oceans Day – 8 June

“We are the sea. We are the ocean. We must wake up to this ancient truth.” – Professor Epeli Hau’ofa

The oceans play a vital role in supporting all life on Earth. The oxygen in every third breath we take was produced by phytoplankton, the microscopic plants floating in the surface waters of oceans. Without the huge thermal capacity of the oceans, the planet would be warming even more quickly. The Pacific islands region covers over 10% of the total global ocean area. It is the repository of the world’s largest tuna fishery and the planet’s largest expanse of coral reefs.

While they may be small island economies, Pacific Island Countries and Territories are in fact Large Ocean States – Kiribati alone, including its Exclusive Economic Zone, is larger than India. The iconic marine wildlife of the Pacific islands region has been seriously depleted in recent years.

Large whales that overwinter in the region and migrate to high latitude feeding grounds of the Antarctic Ocean each summer were largely wiped out by industrial whaling fleets last century with the exception of the smallest of them, the minke whale, and even they are now a fraction of their previous abundance.

We have learnt that while turtles have always been a prized food source in the region, they can no longer sustain existing levels of take. Green, hawksbill and leatherback turtles are now all classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered, within the IUCN Red List.

However, hunting of turtles is still permitted in many Pacific island countries. Half of the ten countries with the highest legal harvest levels of turtles in the world are from our region. Further, there are strong signs that the region’s tuna stocks are facing challenges. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) acknowledges that big-eye tuna are over-exploited, and that yellowfin and albacore tuna are at or approaching maximum sustainable yield. Only skipjack tuna seems currently to be harvested at sustainable levels.

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