Opening statement to World Wetlands Day

Opening statement to World Wetlands Day from David Sheppard, Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme

2 February 2012

Honorable Deputy Prime Minister
Honorable Ministers and Associate Ministers
Honorable Minister for Natural Resources and the Environment
CEO of the Ministry for Natural Resources and the Environment
Distinguished participants in this event
Ladies and gentlemen

It is an honour and privilege for me to celebrate World Wetlands Day with you and to officially launch SPREP's 2012 Clean Pacific Campaign.

I prepared this speech early this morning in the middle of a tropical rainstorm and reflected that an adequate supply of water often seems to be the least of our problems in the Pacific, particularly in the the wet season.

At the moment, our problem seems to be one of abundance of water rather than shortage.davids

However it is increasingly obvious that water is one of the major limiting factors for our life in the Pacific.

Last year saw dramatic droughts and water shortages in our region, resulting in the declaration of a State of Emergency in Tokelau, Tuvalu, and the northern islands of the Cook Islands.

Climate change is likely to make this situation worse. Our scientists predict that convergence zones – the zones where flows of weather meet and interact - will shift northwards, resulting in less rainfall and more unpredictable rainfall patterns in our part of the Pacific.

It is thus essential that we in the Pacific better value, better manage and better conserve our wetlands and water resources.

And this is what today's World Wetlands Day is all about.

Today marks the date of the signing of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands in 1971 in the small town of Ramsar in Iran.

World Wetlands Day provides an opportunity to take stock of the many values of wetlands and also to raise awareness of the benefits of wetlands in general and the Ramsar Convention in particular.

Under the Ramsar Convention "wetlands" have a very broad definition, and even include human made wetlands. So, under Ramsar, wetlands are everywhere, and it is probably simplest to think of the Convention as having an interest in the management of all water-based ecosystems, other than deep marine waters.

The Convention promotes integrated approaches to managing wetland systems to retain their natural values while ensuring appropriate human use of these areas for future generations.

This is referred to as "wise use" and this concept underpins the Ramsar Convention.

Perhaps the best-known aspect of the Ramsar Convention is the List of Wetlands of International Importance, the Ramsar List.

These are important wetland sites which maintain biodiversity and the natural functioning of wetland ecosystems. There are now over 1,900 designated Ramsar sites around the world with a combined surface area of over 190 million hectares.

Putting that into perspective, Ramsar sites around the world now cover about 7 times the total area of New Zealand.

Lake Lanoto'o National Park is Samoa's Ramsar site and is the largest freshwater lake in Samoa.

Lake Lanoto'o sits in good company on the Ramsar List with other famous Ramsar sites around the world such as the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the Danube Delta in Romania, and the Kakadu National Park in Australia.

Lake Lanoto'o demonstrates the values and importance of wetland areas for our survival. It protects some of Samoa's unique plants and animals – Samoa's unique biodiversity – while also forming the core part of the watershed area for Apia. Protecting Lake Lanoto'o ensures the people of Apia have an adequate supply of water for drinking and other purposes.

We can see from the example of Lake Lanoto'o that protection and effective management of important wetland areas is essential for the supply of clean water and many other associated services.

One of the many services of wetlands is tourism.

It is thus fitting that the theme for World Wetlands Day this year is Wetlands and Tourism. Tourism is a major source of income for Pacific Island economies and is an important and growing sector in Samoa's economy.

One of the fastest growing segments of the tourism industry, both globally and in the Pacific region, is nature based tourism, or ecotourism.

Important wetland areas like Lake Lanoto'o are potentially prime tourism destinations for Samoa, both now and in the future.

Ecotourism initiatives in and around wetlands can bring many benefits at both the national and the village level.

However, bad or unsustainable tourism practices can also have negative impacts on our wetlands, the biodiversity they support and the communities that depend on them. With tourism, it is important that natural values are protected and managed so that we do not "kill the goose that lays the golden egg".

Tourism in and around important wetland areas like Lake Lanoto'o must thus be carefully planned and implemented.

A number of Pacific countries have joined, or are in the process of joining, the Ramsar Convention. This provides an excellent opportunity to encourage regional-level dialogue and cooperation on wetland conservation and Ramsar sites.

So let's share experience and lessons learnt between Ramsar sites in our region such as Samoa's Lake Lanoto'o and sites such the Upper Navua Conservation Area in Fiji.

One of the biggest threats to our wetlands is waste and pollution.

Many wetland areas in our fragile Pacific islands, including our precious Ramsar sites, are severely impacted by poorly managed rubbish and pollution.

Given the importance of this issue for our wetlands, it is timely to introduce the SPREP Clean Pacific 2012 Campaign.

This campaign aims to galvanize actions at all levels to improve our management of wastes and pollution in the Pacific region.

This campaign will make a major contribution to healthy wetlands and to a clean environment.

Clean Pacific – these are two powerful words that evoke images of the environment our forefathers enjoyed and the kind of environment our children and grandchildren, by right, should enjoy.

Two simple words, yet they embody the aspirations for all Pacific people.

If we go back 100 years it is interesting to note that, in the more than 1,000 languages in use in the Pacific at that time, many of these in Papua New Guinea, there was no one word for waste or pollution. It wasn't an issue at this time.

Unfortunately that situation has now changed and it is certainly now an issue in our region. Increasing levels of waste and pollution are of major concern in all Pacific countries, whether it be solid waste, e-waste - associated with old and surplus computers, or toxic material such as asbestos.

But, what do these words Clean Pacific really mean? And how can we achieve a Clean Pacific when our economies are growing and when we are consuming and using more imported products? Are we doing enough when we hold an annual clean-up activity such as the activity at Lake Lanoto'o today? Or do we need to take further measures?

Achieving a Clean Pacific requires concerted action at all levels - from government to grass roots - to overcome the many challenges facing our region, such as isolated populations, and remote geographic locations, which often make sustainable waste management and pollution control very difficult.

The Clean Pacific 2012 campaign has 4 objectives to help achieve a clean Pacific region.

The first objective is to increase the capacity of Pacific islanders to better manage waste and control pollution.

Together we are building capacity to manage waste and also implementing the 3Rs approach to waste: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. In other words we should Reduce the level of waste we produce, we should Reuse items rather than throwing them away, and we should Recycle items that can be recycled. The 3Rs can make a big difference and can help us achieve a Clean Pacific.

These are also three simple words that we can all apply in our day to day life.

The second objective of the Clean Pacific 2012 is to support grassroots actions for a cleaner Pacific region. The old adage that you should think globally, but act locally is fundamental for achieving a Clean Pacific. Local communities and villages must be directly involved in better managing waste and controlling pollution. Clean up programmes such as today's clean up at lake Lanonoto'o and last years' partnership between SPREP, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, and Rotary Samoa on a clean up programme in Manono, can also play an important role.

However, action on waste management and pollution must start from and build on action at the village and grass roots level.

The third objective of Clean Pacific 2012 targets the policy makers across the region to encourage the adoption of better waste management and pollution control policies. Waste and pollution cut across all sectors - public health, tourism, agriculture, and biodiversity such as is found in wetland areas, and we need to work together to find common solutions and maximize our limited resources.

The fourth and final objective of Clean Pacific 2012 is to encourage our Pacific island governments to ratify regional and international pollution-related agreements, such as those designed to prevent and manage marine pollution from ships. Without these international agreements, our Pacific region would not have the power or resources to regulate pollution from larger developed countries.

With these four objectives, SPREP hopes to build on past successes and create additional momentum for a Clean Pacific in 2012 and for many years to come.

Implementing the Clean Pacific would not be possible without the support of many partners and donors. In particular SPREP acknowledges with appreciation the generous support of, and partnership with, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the French Development Agency (AFD) and the International Maritime Organisation to reduce and better manage waste and pollution in our region.

SPREP also acknowledges the leading role of Samoa in this region in addressing issues relating to waste management and pollution, as well as Samoa's many important initiatives to protect and manage ecosystems and wetlands, including Lake Lanoto'o.

So, in conclusion, let's work together to make this year a turning point in our efforts to address waste management and pollution problems.

It is thus my great pleasure to officially launch the Pacific Year of the Clean Pacific.

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much, faafetai lava.

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