Op- Ed by Lagi Toribau
The Pacific Oceans, home and greatest asset to Pacific people is at the heart of global resource extraction battles. If not united across boundaries and managed holistically and sustainably the basic survival of Pacific communities is in jeopardy.
The Pacific Ocean, Oceania, The Western and Central Pacific Ocean, The Pacific Forum Island Waters are some of the more formal terms used to describe the vast ocean in our Pacific backyard. One of the largest bodies of water globally - underpins the very mechanisms that regulates and maintains the world that we live it. It is one of our greatest assets yet it is by far humanities greatest failure as we exploit ocean after ocean and species after species, minerals, oil and gas pushing humanities survival at risk.
Kiribati, one of the smallest of our island countries owns a body of water (called Exclusive Economic Zone – EEZ) bigger than the Continental United States of America. Fiji’s EEZ is almost the size of South Africa. We, the Pacific are Large Ocean States despite our relatively small landmass. Did you ever wonder why there is an influx of foreign vessels and companies popping up everywhere in the Pacific – in Suva, Tarawa or Majuro? Why there is interest in seabed minerals and genetic resources underneath our seafloor?
The Pacific Ocean is one of the last remaining relatively healthy oceans in the world. That doesn’t mean though that it is not under threat from exploitive activities like subsistence and commercial harvesting of inshore and offshore fisheries, tourism; trade and the transportation industry; mineral and deep sea mining; research and the impending crisis of climate change.
The story is simple: choose to continue to be defined and led astray by the needs and pressure of the global North or choose to secure the livelihoods and lives of Pacific communities who depend on (for most solely) on the health and resilience of the ocean. Serve the needs of our people and the need to sustain our resources and our ocean for generations to come. It is not something we can measure and defend monetarily! It is a human issue; a moral one that is underpinned by rights.
However, the wheel is turning in the Pacific. The leaders have recognised how we have been inequitably treated in the use of our most precious ocean resources from the coast to the reefs, fishing grounds through to the high seas and the migratory species in between. It is time that we the Pacific people take back our future and decide/ determine our own fate.
Sustainable Development – trending at the moment with the global community. Just a few weeks ago, the Regional Preparatory Meeting toward the UN Conference on Oceans concluded in Suva, Fiji. The meeting was convened for Pacific leaders, officials and civil society. The meeting agreed on specific goals and objectives to drive prosperity but more importantly ensure a sustainable future by protecting and improving the management of our oceans. Fiji, a co-chair of the global conference, hosted the regional meeting and helped the region set a good precedent for new ways of working in the region.
Some of the commitments reached by our leaders forces the Pacific as a whole to take a new approach to the way we interact, utilise and manage our ocean – a transformative change:
1.Integrated Oceans management. The region will have to look across the board on the users, use and management of our oceans resources collectively. This will force the region to also consolidate how the ocean is managed.
2.Transboundary impacts and management. Like climate change, like tuna, like deep sea mining and genetic resources there are threats and users of the ocean that knows no line of demarcation and warrants the need to look closely at how management responses are not defined by lines that are drawn on paper.
3.Prioritising the management of existing oceans related industries with a focus on implementation and taking the rights based approach to management.
4.Plastics and Styrofoam packaging. The leaders committed to developing national policies to control pollution and focuses attention on plastics and Styrofoam packaging. They also call for global action.
5.Nuclear waste, radioactive and other contaminants, shipwrecks and war relics. The leaders committed to calling on the United Nations and countries responsible to undertake (urgent) action to reduce and eliminate any threat posed to our people and ecosystem. They also called for immediate clean up and restoration.
6.Ensure that climate change impacts and actions needed to reduce further impacts and are taken forth to the international community. These measures include ocean acidification, blue carbon, carbon sink and the need for the global community to reduce carbon emissions.
7.Triennial UN oceans summits, supported by regional and sub-regional ocean summit to ensure strong monitoring and accountability of their commitments.
8.A data and information system and hub to facilitate improved access and use.
9.Due to the real threat sea level rise poses and the ongoing negotiations of our boundaries, our rights are secured and protected.
This disclaimer informs readers to know that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s current or previous employer, organisation, committee or other group or individual.
Lagi Toribau from Fiji is an independent Oceans and Fisheries Consultant based in Suva, FIJI, currently working for the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG) and Oxfam. Previously, Lagi was the Program Director for Greenpeace Africa based in Johannesburg. He was also the leader of the Greenpeace Global tuna Political Project. For several years, he led a number of Climate and Political related initiatives in the Pacific. In his over a decade of experience, he has led national, regional and international projects including numerous ship tour expeditions as well as heading Greenpeace’s participation in key regional and international political meetings. Most recently, Lagi has worked as Head of Program for Greenpeace East Asia, managing the Climate and Energy and Oceans campaigns in Korea and leading the establishment of Greenpeace Oceans campaign in main land China.