12 June 2020, Apia, Samoa - A weekly webinar series which aims to highlight Pacific voices and drive Pacific conversation which empower a “blue and green” component in the COVID-19 recovery plans for Pacific island countries was launched today by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).
Titled “Transitioning to a post-pandemic Pacific”, the series focusses on the crucial role of the environment in the recovery plans post-COVID-19 for a sustainable and resilient Pacific. It will run from 12 June until 10 July, with five confirmed webinars covering different aspects of our Pacific environment.
The first webinar was conducted today and was available to people from around the Pacific and the world through the online conferencing platform, Zoom. The title of the first webinar was “Our Ocean journey for a Bluer Pacific as we navigate through COVID-19”.
The ocean is an integral part of the lives and future of the Pacific region. Although the Pacific region has largely been spared much of the tragedy caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the economies of the region have been hit hard by this event. The webinar examined recent ocean conservation efforts in the Pacific region and reiterated the importance of sustainability being central to rebuilding economies.
The first session of the webinar was a high-level session, moderated by SPREP Director General Kosi Latu, included Dame Meg Taylor, Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat; Hon. F. Umiich Sengebau, Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism of the Government of Palau and Chairperson for the Our Ocean Conference 2020; and the Rt. Hon. Lord Zac Goldsmith, United Kingdom’s Minister for the Pacific and Environment.
Dame Meg Taylor, also the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, said, “The Pacific Ocean is more than just a vast body of water. It is a representation of us. The ocean is our shared resource and our shared responsibility.”
“COVID-19 has exacerbated our vulnerabilities as individual economies and as a region. It has also presented the world with a valuable opportunity to link global recovery efforts with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the 2030 Goals for Sustainable Development,” she added.
Hon. F. Umiich Sengebau, Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism of the Government of Palau, spoke about the importance of the ocean to Palau’s economy, and how the COVID-19 pandemic and global lockdowns have brought their economy to a standstill.
“As in many other places in the world commercial flights have been suspended and borders are effectively closed. Global lockdowns have helped keep our people safe, but they have also reduced our tourism revenue, over 40% of our GDP, to zero,” Hon. Sengebau said.
“This matters because our tourism economy and ocean protection go hand in hand. When life under our pristine water thrives, that is how we attract visitors who dive in to see it for themselves,” he added.
“Palau recognises the importance of sustainable ocean-based tourism to support employment, livelihoods, and ultimately, sustainable development. This is why it is imperative that we protect the ocean. Palau is a large ocean state. Protecting our ocean is a responsibility we proudly accept.”
The United Kingdom’s Minister for the Pacific and Environment, Rt. Hon. Lord Zac Goldsmith, said there is a lesson to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as an opportunity to choose a new path.
“As countries emerge from the pandemic, we will all have to find ways to rebuild and that gives us a huge opportunity to choose a new path, one that ensures environmental sustainability and resilience are the lens through which we make decisions to map out our economic recovery,” he said.
The webinar concluded with a session on working in partnership for a plastic-free ocean, which was moderated by SPREP’s Coastal and Marine Ecosystems Adviser, Dr Peter Davies.
H.E. Melanie Hopkins, UK High Commissioner to Fiji, reiterated UK’s commitment to tackling marine debris both at home and globally through various initiatives, including the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Coalition. She stressed the need to move toward a circular economy.
Ms Nua Su’a-Va’ai of Manino Waters and Prime Pacific Enterprise in Samoa then spoke on her work on this issue in Samoa, developing partnerships between business, community and government, working for a plastic free Pacific Ocean, while Dr Andrew Smith of the Pacific Community, elaborated on the impacts of COVID-19 on Pacific island coastal fisheries. The session also heard from Dr Josie Tamate of the Ministry of Natural Resources, who spoke about the recently established Niue Moana Mahu, the second largest Marine Protected Area in the Pacific.
The webinar is available in full on YouTube at this link.
The next webinar in the Transitioning to a post-pandemic Pacific series will be on Maintaining a Cleaner Pacific as we cope with the adversities of COVID-19. This will be held on Friday 19 June at 3:00p.m. Samoa time. To register, please click on this link.
For more information on today’s webinar, please contact Dr Peter Davies at [email protected]. If you would like to know more about the webinar series, please contact Ms Nanette Woonton at [email protected].