Jul 20, 2019 Last Updated 3:02 AM, Jul 19, 2019

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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Whales - starvation or not?

WHALES are likely starving and entering dangerously shallow water in a desperate search for food. Whales are not immune to starvation.

The 650-plus pilot whales beached at Farewell Spit, New Zealand, provide ‘canary in the coal mine’ warning of the state of the world ocean. There are a number of possible whale stranding scenarios. Whales are air breathing mammals. Mammals have instinct to avoid drowning.

A sick and weakened mammal can be expected to instinctively seek shallow water to avoid drowning. Healthy whales appear to follow even one suffering in their pod. Animal behaviour in a herd of goats is similar. First-hand experience reveals when one goat in a mob of 25 is shot in a culling event the rest of the mob sometimes just stand there apparently stunned.

When another is shot the mob might remain without running away. Then another and another and another can be shot and the remainder will continue to stay until only a few remain, then those run away. Shark or killer whale mauling of whales likely also leads to weakness and stranding.

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Reef pillaging by Vietnamese Blue Boats seeking lucrative returns from beche de mer harvesting is being picked up under oceanic fisheries surveillance networks. As FFA’s Director James Movick told Pacific fisheries and legal officials at a joint workshop with SPC on May 1 and 2, reef pillaging is more than a blatant criminal act, but has tragic environmental impacts.

The crimes against Pacific nations and devastating impacts to reef species and bio-diversity from Vietnamese Blue Boats takes more than beche de mer from our waters. These violations appear to be escalating and spreading to more Pacific nations as the boats deplete targeted species in one area and move on to the next reef, without regard for territorial borders and maritime boundaries.

Moreover, the illegal harvesting of valuable species such as beche de mer (BDM) essentially robs these economic opportunities from local harvesters and their increased sale on the market is likely to depress prices that legal harvesters and traders are likely to receive.

The deadly damage from harvesting also brings in the threat of invasive species through bilge water or other carriage by the boat and crew. Affected countries so far, covering half the FFA members and New Caledonia, has met with sympathy from the full membership and other metropolitan countries with all keen to step up extra-regional surveillance and intelligence capacity to try to better spot, track and apprehend these boats.

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