June 14, 2013 by admin
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
CEO of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment
SPREP Staff, past and present
Ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for joining us today for this happy occasion. I would like to particularly thank the Reverend for his inspiring words and blessing.
Ladies and gentlemen, on the 16 June 1993 SPREP came into being with the signing of the SPREP Agreement. This Sunday thus marks our 20th birthday.
For SPREP our birth as a regional organisation in 1993 followed a very long gestation period - of about 20 years - much longer than for an elephant. Our parents during this period - SPC, the Forum, ESCAP and UNEP - had some moments of reluctance and at times wanted us to stay with them and not leave the safety of home and go out on our own as a new and separate organisation.
Mr David Sheppard - Director General, SPREP
Mr David Sheppard - Director General, SPREP
We were very fortunate for the guidance during this period of many wise men and women from around the Pacific region, including Sione Tongilava from Tonga, Neta's boss for many years, Robin Yarrow from Fiji, and Kilifoti Eteuati from Foreign Affairs in Samoa, still actively involved with SPREP through his current position as Samoa's Ambassador to Japan.
Through establishing SPREP, Pacific countries and these wise persons made a strong statement to the region, and to the world, about the importance of managing and protecting our environment. Put simply - if we don't look after our environment then there will be no future for the people of the Pacific.
I must admit that preparing this speech today posed some problems for me. We have had a number of similar celebrations over the last few years. In 2010 we celebrated 10 years of moving to this magnificent SPREP compound. In 2012 we celebrated 20 years of SPREP's arrival in Samoa, a celebration graced by the Prime Minister.
This shows that SPREP likes to celebrate - and why not - and also that we are always open for a good party.
My challenge was how to say something new after having given similar speeches at our two previous events. I turned to the source of most of my good ideas - my wife - and she advised me to give a speech which had a good beginning, a strong ending, and nothing in between. With this wise advice in hand I noted my options were either to rehash previous speeches or to reach out to previous staff and Directors of SPREP and to make my speech from their comments.
In fact I have done both.
The first person I reached out to was the Grandfather, or Godfather, of SPREP, Arthur Dahl, the first coordinator of SPREP, who started SPREP in 1974 focused on mapping and developing management strategies for coral reefs in Pacific countries. Arthur responded to me yesterday and I would like to read out his comments:
"As you commemorate the 20th anniversary of SPREP's birth as an independent intergovernmental organization, you may reflect that SPREP's conception and gestation go back almost twice as far. Maurice Strong (then Executive Director of UNEP) and I began discussing a regional environment programme for the Pacific in 1974, when I joined SPC as Regional Ecological Adviser. UNEP then supported a preparatory process led by SPC, culminating in the launching of SPREP as a regional programme under the auspices of the Forum Secretariat, SPC, UNEP and ESCAP at the Rarotonga Conference on the Human Environment in the South Pacific, 8-11 March 1982. You have a long and distinguished heritage as one of the world's first regional environmental programmes.
Now you can look forward to the Apia Conference next year, when all the Small Island Developing States will gather under UN auspices in the host country of your secretariat, marking not only the 20th anniversary of the Barbados Conference that came out of Agenda 21, but also the 40th anniversary of regional environmental activities among SIDS.
With congratulations to all my successors for the work accomplished, and best wishes to your host government and all of you for the challenges of the year ahead and for a successful Apia Conference"
Thank you Arthur for these wise words.
If I had to write a Wikipedia entry explaining what SPREP is about I would say it is about people, it's about family, and it's about working together for a better Pacific environment.
SPREP has been blessed to have been served by so many great staff over so many years. Today I am honored and humbled to be able to lead such a fantastic team of dedicated and professional men and women at SPREP, most of whom are here today.
SPREP has always been fortunate to have had great people working with it. Peter Thomas joined SPREP in 1985 and he sent me an email yesterday. Pete recalls:
"Sometime early in February 1985 when New Caledonia was in the grips of a independence war and the flights into the country were virtually empty, I stepped out of the Novata Hotel on a glorious morning and walked 100 meters along Anse Vata to the SPC headquarters. This started what is now a 28 year association with SPREP and many of the fine people who have worked for the programme over that time.
As others probably present will remember SPREP and SPC were housed in that glorious old timber building built as the WWII Pacific headquarters of the Allied forces and when I found the 3 small offices set aside for SPREP there were three SPREPies in residence – Jeremy Carew Reid the first SPREP Director, Neva Wendt and Marie Therese our local office assistant. In a couple of months Dave Sheppard joined us from NSW – remarkably 28 years later he is reading this message!
Shortly after I left SPREP at the end of that first assignment, Joe Reti was installed as the new Director and by the time I returned the following year, Paul Holthus was also in residence. When I left in 1991, Vili Fuavao was the third SPREP Director.
Who would have thought that from this modest nucleus SPREP would grow to be what it is today- an independent regional organisation with its own campus, housing around 80 staff shouldering the regional responsibility for safeguarding the environment of the vast Pacific – a remarkable achievement built on the dedication, commitment and vision of its leadership and many, many others who like me have benefitted enormously both personally and professionally, from their SPREP experiences.
I could bore you with endless tales of life in SPREP in those heady early years - endless hours and late nights on the negotiations for the SPREP Treaty – trying to match Neva's indefatigable stamina – supporting Joe as he wrestled with politics of the UNEP Regional Seas programme and SPREP's independence within SPC, travelling the region with Paul delivering workshops and training on coastal management and environmental impact assessment – attending early meetings leading to the CBD – we did it all and I think it's fair to say the hall mark of SPREP staff in those days was versatility.
Congratulations SPREP on a hugely productive 20 years and thanks for the memories! "
Thank you Peter and we are very happy that you are still actively working with SPREP - proving that one may physically leave SPREP but one never leaves the SPREP family.
The first local staff at SPREP when we first moved to Samoa in 1992 included Tolo, Apiseta and Monica. All are still smiling after so many years, and continue to be among our most valued staff at SPREP. After 20 years Tolo is still making the best cups of tea and coffee in Samoa, for which I am always very grateful each morning. Monica is still greeting all visitors to SPREP with grace and a large smile and yes, Apiseta is still working on papers for the SPREP Meeting !
One thing I am very happy about at SPREP is that many of our staff have moved on to senior management positions within Pacific countries. In February myself, Stuart, Paul, Tim and Carlo were hosted at a dinner in the Solomon Islands by the Permanent Secretary of Agriculture and Fisheries, Frank Wickham, once a valued member of our staff. The other SPREP Frank - Frank Griffin - is now the Dean of the Faculty of Science at the University of PNG.
Ana Tiraa, previously SPREP's Invasive Species Officer, is now Head of the Climate Change Department in the Prime Ministers Department in the Cook Islands. I received a message from her when I was having dinner at a restaurant last night, which started me laughing, to the surprise of other restaurant patrons, so I thought it should be shared:
" I have had a long association with SPREP dating back, mmmm, I would rather not say, as I may incriminate my youth. One of my earlier memories is of Stuart Chape when he was working in Fiji and I attended my first overseas meeting, which was the Nature Conservation conference in Vanuatu. Darn, I am revealing my mature self now!
I had to ask my family about their memories of SPREP as they were very much a part of the organization. My daughter quickly piped up what she remembered. The bar nights, walking up Mt Vaea, and Stuart sitting on a plastic chair at the bar night and it broke. Everyone laughed except Stuart. The other memories for us were the social activities such as squash, paddling, awesome Xmas parties and workshop functions.
One of my fondest memories is when SPREP first moved to Samoa under the guidance of Joe Reti and his team. Little did I know then, I would one day be working closely with Joe in the future. His gentle guidance and encouragement played a huge influence on my career path. Don Stewart was also someone I would end up working closely with through BirdLife International. OK enough about the guys.
I can't go by without making mention of Kate Brown, also known as radio KBV. I wanted to say just a few words, but I could write a book. The only thing I will make mention of is Kate being a quite achiever who has done so much.
And the other SPREP ladies in their many walks up the mountain at lunch time. How lucky you all are to have Mt Vaea and Robert Louis at your back door to keep you fit and healthy.
And of course I can't forget Lui Bell. Lui was a true gentleman dedicated to conserving our marine species. I will always remember him enjoying life, looking after his extended aiga, and smoking outside his building. Also, as a powerful hitter in squash, where he had so much fun.
My experience with SPREP started off at the country level, then as a consultant and later as a full time SPREP staff. It is funny how things end up going full circle. I am now back in country and am still working with SPREP. I can't get SPREP out of my system. The thing is SPREP's principals are just as relevant as they were 20 years ago. In fact, I would say more so today. It has been a great privilege to be associated with SPREP at many levels and even to this day it is still a blast. Happy birthday SPREP"
Thank you so much Ana. There are many other examples of SPREP staff who have moved on to senior and important positions in Pacific countries while still maintaining strong links with SPREP.
To me, this underlines the fundamental role of SPREP - which is supporting and strengthening capacity development in Pacific Island countries.
To me SPREP is also about family. There is a strong personal connection for me. In my first week at SPREP in Noumea in 1990 I attended a Melbourne Cup lunch and sat next to a beautiful lady who happened to have a car she wanted to sell. Having just arrived in Noumea I happened to need a car. To cut a long story short, I bought the car and Milena and I are still happily married. Talk about "after sales service" after buying a car. And it all started at SPREP.
Like any family we have had good times and bad times - the good times too numerous to mention - the bad times including the tragic passing of Lui Bell late last year. Like any family, we have grieved together, shared our loss, and supported one another.
When I leave SPREP I am sure that this sense of family will remain one of my strongest memories.
As I said, you may physically leave SPREP but you will never leave the SPREP family.
What SPREP is fundamentally about is working together for a better environment in the Pacific. The environment is, and always must be, seen as the cornerstone of sustainable development in the Pacific as clearly articulated in SPREP vision:
"The Pacific Environment, sustaining our livelihoods and natural heritage in harmony with our cultures"
The many achievements of SPREP over the last 40 years have made a positive difference in improving Pacific environments and the livelihoods of Pacific peoples. I am particularly proud that SPREP has more than doubled our direct financial and technical support to our Pacific Island Members over the last 3 years.
SPREP has grown, but so have the environmental challenges. It is sobering to note that our precious biodiversity – vital for life in this region - is highly at risk and that our region has the unfortunate distinction of having some of the highest rates of species extinction in the world. Our Pacific islands are gravely threatened by climate change - identified by Pacific leaders as the number one challenge facing our region - and the problems of solid and hazardous waste continue to grow.
As Ana Tiraa noted, the work of SPREP has never been more relevant and important than today and we must all continue and accelerate our efforts.
SPREP cannot do this alone - we must continue to work very closely with our Member agencies in Pacific countries and to strengthen these links. We must also strengthen our partnerships with SPREP's ever increasing number of partners and donors.
I would like to acknowledge the more than 40 donors and supporters that support SPREP's efforts to make the Pacific environment a healthy and sustainable one. I would particularly like to thank the Governments of Australia and New Zealand who are our largest programmatic supporters. I would like to also acknowledge with appreciation the following partners and donors of SPREP present at this ceremony: UNDP, the Government of China and the Government of Japan. Thank you very much to all donors and partners, we appreciate your trust and we will work hard to earn it.
I would like to acknowledge, with the deepest and most sincere appreciation, the Government of Samoa, for all you have done to support SPREP in Samoa. We would not be the organisation we are today without this support, so generously given. Not only do we appreciate being hosted here, but we also appreciate the opportunity to learn from the practical experience of Samoa in managing its environment. Samoa is a leader in the Pacific in the environmental field and SPREP is very pleased and honoured to work with and learn from you.
We have seen how Samoa has developed Pacific Solutions to Pacific Issues – through approaches such as developing use of coconut based bio-diesel, which are fuelling our SPREP vehicles - all cars are still working very well - and your other important work on renewable energy and natural resource management, to name but a few areas.
We have particularly appreciated your programme of planting a million trees - and I understand this target has been achieved - and we are pleased to add to this by an extensive tree planting ceremony at SPREP today - all native species, not invasives, I should add.
Thank you most sincerely to the Government and people of Samoa for making our stay here in your beautiful country so welcoming, so interesting and so enjoyable.
We hope the trees you will all plant today in our tree planting ceremony will thrive and will put down deep roots, just as SPREP has over the 20 years since we were established in Samoa.
We look forward with eager anticipation to the next 20 years of SPREP serving the environment and people of the Pacific region.
Thank you very much for sharing this important and happy occasion today with myself and with SPREP staff.