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August 30, 2014 by admin
General News
'It's in our DNA to conserve the ocean' – Cook Islands Prime Minister
Pacific islands talk marine parks as SPREP forges partnership on marine conservation

By Samisoni Pareti, Editor-in-Chief, Islands Business magazine

29 August 2014, Apia, Samoa - Two days before world leaders begin their weeklong conference on sustainable development in this Pacific island nation, small island developing states have been inspired to follow the lead of countries like the Cook Islands, Kiribati and Palau in turning most of their oceans into marine reserves.

And this development comes as the region's premier environmental organisation – the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) signed a partnership with the National Geographic Society and the Waitt Foundation to promote marine parks in the Pacific.

On hand in Apia to personally urge his Pacific island states to declare "no-take" zones in their tuna filled waters was newly re-elected Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Hon. Henry Puna. Speaking at a side-event of the United Nations Conference on Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) that was organised by SPREP on Friday evening, Prime Minister Puna said island states should – like the Cooks – look to their culture to find the motivation to preserve and conserve their ocean resources.

sprep PMpuna event copyHon. Henry Puna, Prime Minister, Cook Islands

"For us in the Cook Islands, conservation of the ocean is part of our DNA," said Hon. Henry Puna. "We were born into the ocean, and we will die in the ocean. Our lives are so inter-connected with the sea.

"If you look closely and look within yourself and at your own community, you will be able to find that DNA too. Once you connect with that, the rest should be easy."

In declaring 2.2 million square kilometres of their ocean as their Marae Moana, or marine park, the Cook Islands has one of the world's largest 'no take zones' in operation. Puna said the park for now is limited to the Cooks' southern waters, and the plan in the medium term will be to extend this Marae Moana to waters in the northern Cooks.

"Marae are areas that have been designated by tribes across eastern Polynesia as sacred places. Areas where the tribe congregate to establish their collective identity, offer thanks to their gods and deliberate matters of importance for the survival of the tribe.

"Calling our Marine Park – Te Marae Moana is more than an analogy to our believe systems but reflects the essence of the marine park to our very livelihoods. It is a sacred area. As such the Marae Moana will provide the necessary framework to promote sustainable development by balancing economic growth interests such as tourism, fishing, deep sea mining with conserving core biodiversity and natural assets in our ocean, reefs and islands."

Asked by Australian scientist and climate change negotiator for the Tuvalu Government Dr Ian Fry to explain how deep sea mining would fit into such a concept of marine parks, Prime Minister Puna averted answering the question by simply replying that partnership was key.

The event on the benefits of marine reserves also saw the signing of a new partnership between the regional environment body, the Waitt Foundation and the National Geographic Society. SPREP's Director General Mr. David Sheppard said the partnership will promote marine resource conservation and associated sustainable economic development of SIDS in the Pacific.

sprepOcean event1
"The focus of our joint work will be on biodiversity and ecosystem management, and environmental management and governance. The work in these areas will focus on practical issues and capacity building to assist SPREP members with the creation of effective no take marine reserves, including implementation of efficient and effective monitoring and enforcement programs, combating Illegal Unreported and Unregulated fishing, and the creation of new sustainable tourism revenues based on marine reserves," said DG Sheppard.

Mr. Gyan Chandra Acharya, the UN's Under-Secretary General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States commended SIDS for taking the lead in protecting the pristine ocean and its inhabitants.

"Pacific SIDS had taken the lead at the UN in New York and through that leadership, oceans now feature as a sustainable development goal (SDG). In particular, SDG number 14 talks about conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

"There are very specific commitments in our goals now and time-bound measures by 2020. This will lead to immense economic benefits to SIDS in terms of their fisheries and tourism."

Under-Secretary General Acharya said he was happy with the draft SAMOA Pathway that will be put before delegates to next week's UN Conference on SIDS, adding that with this outcome document almost ready, delegates should be able to spend more time talking about partnerships instead of trying to re-negotiate the text of the Samoa Pathway.

palau Sakuma eventPresidential aide, Palau, Keobel Sakuma

For Palau in the northwest Pacific, banning commercial fishing in their entire 200-mile exclusive economic zone is a goal its President Tommy Remengesau is committed to. Presidential aide Keobel Sakuma told the event that losing fishing fees revenue of between US$5 to US$6 million annually was not their biggest challenge when the fishing ban will comes into force. Enforcement, Sakuma said would be the most daunting challenge.

"This is because Palau is believed to be in the hotbed of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. Only about 1/10th of such IUU operators are apprehended in Palau in a year. Many of them are under 90 tonnes in sizes and enter our waters from our western sea borders."

Like the Cook Islands, Palau's participation in ocean conservation initiatives like the Micronesian Challenge, shark sanctuary and now the proposed ban on commercial fishing in its entire waters is inspired by its traditional bul, or fishing moratorium.

Sakuma explained that while commercial fishing will be banned in its entirety, 20 per cent of its waters will still be opened to domestic or subsistence fishing. The loss of fishing fees Palau hope would be replaced by tourism earnings.
sprep FijipeterWise event
UNSIDS2014 Head of delegation to Fiji, Mr. Peter Wise

Head of Fiji's delegation to the 3rd UN Conference on SIDS that gets underway in Samoa's sprawling sports and convention complex in Tuanaimato on Monday Mr. Peter Wise spoke about his country's push towards marine conservation. He said by this year, 78.2 per cent of Fiji inshore waters representing 2.3 per cent of its 200 mile EEZ are declared marine protected areas.

"Our biggest challenge in enlarging our MPAs has been the lack of timely information and expertise to advice us on policies," said Wise, who is Fiji's Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of National Planning. "Overfishing is also a challenge which is why we have an imposed a maximum quota of 15 thousand metric tonnes of catches a year."

The Benefits of Marine Reserves Parallel Event was a National Geographic Society, WAITT Foundation and SPREP activity held at the SPREP headquarters in Apia on Friday 29 August, 2014 on the cusp of the Third International Conference on Small Islands Developing States hosted in Samoa from 1 – 4 September, 2014.