Our Pacific, Our Future: Pacific Island Leaders Talanoa

13 November 2014

Regional solidarity, committed international partnerships, education and the need to look beyond the perceived barriers to successful conservation, were at the forefront of an informal dialogue between Pacific island leaders at the IUCN World Parks Congress in Sydney on 13 November.

The Prime Minister of Cook Islands, Mr Henry Puna, President of Palau, Mr Tommy Remengesau Jr and President of Kiribati, Mr Anote Tong, highlighted these issues in the context of effective leadership for ocean conservation and protection of Pacific island fisheries.

The informal talanoa (talk) session, co-hosted by the IUCN Oceania Regional Office and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), aimed to encourage open conversation and sharing of leaders’ perspectives on conservation. All three leaders are well respected for their commitments to protected areas and sustainable resource use. The country leaders shared inspirational stories on how they had been driven to make their conservation commitments and decisions and what this means for the future of their island nations.

President Remengesau, who is a recent recipient of the Champions of the Earth award from the United Nations’ Environment Programme (UNEP), explained his country’s decision to restrict commercial fisheries in its entire 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. He outlined food security, equitable resource sharing and the obvious need to address the depletion of ocean resources as Palau’s main reasons for this decision. The President noted that currently only six percent of the region’s six billion dollar fishing industry actually makes its way back to the region, and added that Palau also relies greatly on tourism for its economic security.

He added that protected areas provide a safe haven where marine life can thrive and reproduce. The benefits from this “rest area” or safe haven have spill-on effects to the non-protected areas of the ocean. Mr Remengesau noted that recent research suggested that setting aside one-third of an area for conservation, had positive effects on the rest of the area.

President Tong noted that the Phoenix Island Protected Area (PIPA), an area of 408,250 square kilometres, is a spawning ground which will contribute to the long term sustainability of the country’s ocean resources. He shared his own perspective on the challenges of bringing climate change issues and the needs of small islands to the international arena.  He noted with great satisfaction the recent accords between the US and China over greenhouse gas emissions calling it a milestone in the negotiations with clear ramifications for the upcoming UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Paris.  He reiterated the fact that advocacy on climate change should continue.

Prime Minister Henry Puna said that while his country depends more on tourism economically than fisheries, there is a need for Pacific solidarity. The government had further responded to the calls of its people to establish a marine protected area as part of efforts to ensure better management of ocean resources. The Cook Islands Marine Park spans over 1,065 million square kilometres – an area more than twice the size of Papua New Guinea.

Overcoming barriers to effective management of these protected areas will be the major challenge for all the leaders as they strive to meet their conservation goals. The call for significant and lasting partnerships was a resounding theme throughout the discussions and resonated with the call for a particular focus on passing on the message to the children and young adults.  Great support from the three heads of State was given for the vakas and their young crew to be champions of this message.

This high level dialogue, that will provide commitments from the Pacific leaders towards the Promise of Sydney, is supported by BIOPAMA with the aim of promoting and celebrating such important decisions informed by the best available scientific data and information.

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