28 June 2022, Lisbon, Portugal, UNOC2022 - Home to one of the largest multi-use marine parks in the world spanning a total ocean area of nearly two million square kilometres, the Cook Islands are represented at the Second UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal this week.
Demonstrating ocean leadership, the Cook Islands has made strong progress towards achieving the voluntary commitments made at the First UN Ocean Conference in 2017 for Sustainable Development Goal 14: Life Below Water.
It was in New York in 2017 that the Cook Islands committed to dedicating its entire Exclusive Economic Zone to protection, conservation and integrated management through the Marae Moana. The Pacific Island country also committed to dedicating 50 nautical mile ‘exclusion zones’ around each of its 15 islands to prohibit all large-scale commercial fishing and seabed minerals activities. This is an area totalling over 350,000 square kilometres.
“We made several huge commitments for our ocean health in 2017, commitments that we are pleased to announce here in Lisbon, Portugal this week, as ones that we have made significant progress towards,” said Mr Joshua Mitchell, Director of Treaties, Multi-lateral and Oceans Division of the Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration. Mr Mitchell is the Head of the Cook Islands Delegation at UNOC2022.
“We’ve moved away from the rhetoric into some real concrete outcomes that people are seeking here. Since making our voluntary commitment at the very first UN Ocean Conference we now have in place our Marae Moana legislation that was passed in June 2017 which includes establishing our 50 nautical mile ‘exclusion zones’ around each island – and we continue to make progress in on our other commitments, in particular on the marine spatial planning process.”
The overarching theme of the UN Ocean Conference is "Scaling up ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal 14: stocktaking, partnerships and solutions".
The Cook Islands has long been proactive in pursuing sustainable economic development whilst ensuring environmentally sustainable ocean management, as evidenced by the establishment of the Marae Moana, responsible fisheries management practices, and careful development of a potential seabed minerals sector.
“Data collection, especially in the deep-sea area remains a critical area of focus for us to better inform decision making and policy development in the Cook Islands,” said Mr Mitchell.
“The more opportunities we have to access scientific data and information pertaining to our ocean space, the better prepared we are to plan ahead for a better, sustainably managed ocean. The theme of the UN Ocean Conference this year is therefore extremely relevant for us.”
As a Big Ocean Sustainable State, and a country that is heavily dependent on its ‘blue economy', the condition of the world’s ocean is a grave concern for the Cook Islands. Climate change, ocean acidification, environmental pollutants, marine litter and overfishing affect ocean ecosystems. The ramifications are life-altering, especially for a small island state in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean.
“The UN Ocean Conference has ambitious goals, including an intergovernmental political declaration – ‘Our ocean, our future, our responsibility - to advance efforts towards sustainable oceans. An important aspect of the conference ahead is the partnership dialogues that will cover the various Goal 14 targets that suggest innovative solutions to solve major common challenges,” said Mr Mitchell.
“We look forward to the UN Ocean Conference ahead and working with our partners to bring about a healthier ocean for us all.”
The Cook Islands delegation at the UNOC22 is led by Mr Joshua Mitchell. It consists of Ms Nathalie Rossette-Cazel Cook Islands Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Ms Alex Herman Seabed Minerals Commissioner, Seabed Minerals Authority, Ms Teuru Tiraa-Passfield Foreign Service Officer, Cook Islands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Mr Isaac Ryan-Glassie Climate Change Advisor of Climate Change Cook Islands and Ms Nanette Woonton of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and Ms Lisa WIliams-Lahari of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
The UNOC2022 is hosted in Lisbon, Portugal from 26 June to 1 July 2022. The Pacific Islands are represented by a strong contingent which includes the Leaders from Fiji, Palau and Tonga. Also present are the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) will provide more Pacific news from the UNOC2022.
For more on the UN Ocean Conference 2022 hosted in Lisbon, Portugal from 27 June to 1 July please visit https://www.un.org/en/conferences/ocean2022