Jun 28, 2017 Last Updated 2:11 PM, Jun 12, 2017

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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Whales

Surviving in a changing ocean

THE humpback whale was hunted almost to the point of extinction last century, with around 200 of a population that was once around 10,000, remaining across the entire region when the hunting ended in 1978.

Hailed as one of the world’s most successful conservation stories, the population has recovered today to around 3,000 whales. These whales no longer face the harpoon, but are affected by new threats, especially plastic litter, marine noise, and climatic changes.

In April, 11 Pacific countries signed the Pacific Whale Declaration, calling for strengthened whale conservation across the region, at the Whales in a Changing Ocean conference hosted by the Kingdom of Tonga which is fitting given its historical role. When King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV of Tonga banned all whaling in Tongan waters in 1978, he ushered in a new era of conservation for this iconic species.

The Declaration highlights the need for continuing efforts to conserve Pacific whales in the face of emerging and ongoing threats. “The growing population of the humpback whale is proof that by working together, the Pacific islands can achieve great results. But we cannot rest here: the threats whales face continue to grow,” said Mr Michael Donoghue of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). 

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Message from the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP)

OUR Ocean is an inherent part of who we are as a Pacific people, and in June our Pacific voices will amplify our tribute and respect of this valuable resource that plays such a significant role in our lives.

Faced with the daunting task of sustainably managing our interactions with the ocean and its resources, the need for integrated ocean management is vital. Our Pacific leaders recognised this when they endorsed the regional Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape in 2010. The global community will now confront the task of integrated action on oceans in New York at the United Nations Ocean Conference on SDG14 - Life Under Water in June 2017.  

The ocean carried our ancestors as they journeyed across the Pacific Ocean to settle distant islands where our cultures and communities were formed. The ocean is the foundation of our cultural traditions and beliefs and helps sustain our Pacific livelihoods, bringing our communities economic revenue and sustenance. Ocean currents are the lifeblood of the planet, mediating our climate, connecting countries and economies, and land and sea ecosystems.

We hope our ocean will be the link that binds all nations together in effectively tackling the planet’s multiple challenges on climate change and the decline of critical ecosystems and natural resources.

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State of our ocean

Change the narrative, says Pacific expert

JUST under a month from the first-ever United Nations conference on the oceans, a leading Pacific Island expert has called for a dramatic change in the narrative about ocean conservation and management. “Invariably asking for funds and assistance from the global community is kind of disempowering,” wrote Dr Transform Aqorau of Solomon Islands.

He is the former CEO of the powerful rich tuna resourced grouping called the Parties of the Nauru Agreement (PNA) and the former legal adviser at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat and the Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency.

“It has become a consistent theme now for Pacific Island states at various international forums particularly in discussions on climate change and sustainable development to ask for more funds. “They should advocate a message of self-reliance and independence so that the younger generation can feel empowered, not disenfranchised and apologetic.

The best way of managing the region’s oceans resources and marine environment is to integrate the EEZ regime and the ocean environment into their domestic economies by developing the oceans and using the revenues that are generated from it to manage and enforce conservation and management measures.” 

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