Opinion - The Pacific people are people of the moana. Our Ocean is part of us as much as we are part of the vast moana Pasifika and its awesome surrounding writes Sefanaia Nawadra*, Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP)
In Samoa where I am based and in all our island Member states when I visited, pre-Covid-19, I see this connection every day. In the villages, fishermen and women head to the sea to collect fish and seafood for daily consumption and revenue. In the evenings, young people and children join their elders when they take to the moana for recreational activities, paddling, outrigger canoeing as well as casual swimming among others. During Covid-19 it is the sea that many turned to when the economy slowed down, for sustenance and to eke out a livelihood.
The tides and the waves herald seasons. Village elders, who learned from their forebears, would congregate on the foreshore, observe the tidal patterns, feel the wind direction in their faces, observe the phases of the moon and they would know what is up ahead. Young people need to observe and learn the knowledge they too will use and pass on to the unborn generations. Such is our intricate and intimate relationship with the moana. The Ocean defines us as a Pacific people; it underpins our livelihoods. It has been and will always be the way of life, Pacific Island life.
As we develop, sadly, the triple planetary crisis of climate change, biodiversity, and pollution threaten our way of life. The crises have damaged the Ocean and we see the negative impact every day. Although most SPREP Members have small populations and economies, they are Large Ocean Island States responsible for managing more than ten percent of the planet's oceans. Approximately 98% of this area, totalling over 30 million square kilometres, is contained within the Exclusive Economic Zones of SPREP Members.
We know our Ocean. We also know what we are talking about when it comes to challenges. We see it. Every day. In our pursuit of answers, we turn to Science. What we find saddens us. Science tells us that human activities, to which Pacific populations have contributed the least, have threatened the ocean's health and ability to sustain life. Ocean acidification, marine litter and pollution, illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing, and the loss of habitats and biodiversity are among the biggest threats. The negative impacts from these have been exacerbated by climate change. Science also tells us that these problems will only get worse as the world population grows and human activities increase.
While as Pacific nations we rightly identify ourselves as stewards of the Ocean, the fact is we cannot turn things around by ourselves. This is why the upcoming 2022 UN Ocean Conference in Lisbon, Portugal, with the theme "Scaling up ocean action based on science and innovation for the implementation of Goal14: Stocktaking, partnerships, and solutions" is critical. We need a collective global effort to address some of the most defining ocean issues of our time.
SPREP and Pacific countries have not been sitting idle. We have been working with our Member states, the Council of the Regional Organisations of the Pacific (CROP) agencies, and our supporters and partners to increase their capacity to address ocean issues and build ocean resilience. We are working together to address the impacts of ocean acidification and climate change. With our ocean projects are designed to access finance through United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change financial and funding mechanisms. These projects provide negotiation support for ongoing global negotiations processes and for national implementation through adaptation and mitigation policy and planning support, and support for National Meteorological Services through the Pacific Meteorology Desk Partnership.
We have worked collectively to address our ocean priorities regarding ship-sourced and land-based sources of marine pollution, as well as assistance in addressing legacy waste such as
WWII wrecks and nuclear waste. This action is under the Pacific Regional Integrated Waste and Pollution Management Strategy 2016-2025: Cleaner Pacific 2025, a strategy that addresses solid, hazardous, and chemical waste and pollution control.
SPREP Members have contributed to saving our whales by declaring over 12 million square kilometres of the EEZs of Pacific Island countries and territories as whale sanctuaries, and as their populations recover, whale-watching is becoming an important revenue earner in our region, demonstrating the economic benefits that conservation can bring. Our Pacific Island Leaders have endorsed the Vision and Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape, under which all our island states, regional agencies, and NGOs work together for a sustainable Pacific Ocean environment. We are now formulating the Pacific's 2050 Strategy to realise our Leaders' Vison for a "Blue Pacific Continent" that our Leaders will consider in July. Our future environmental and economic security demands that we jointly set in place these higher environmental and social standards for ocean uses.
There is a lot more work being done, and we look forward to working with you all in anticipation of the increasing severity of ocean ecosystem impacts. While we are hopeful for a better outcome for all of us, we are also realistic. Our elders tell us that a number of fish and seafood species have disappeared. Our fishermen and women have to work twice as hard to collect enough seafood for their daily sustenance. It has become difficult for villages to read the tides because they have become very unpredictable, and sometimes they appear angry.
We need to take urgent global action now to save our moana. The Pacific demands effective leadership through innovations to mobilise action, based on science to sustainably manage and preserve our Ocean for generations of today and tomorrow.
As people of the moana or tamata ni Wasawasa, we remain hopeful, but we need your help!
*Sefanaia Nawadra is the new Director General SPREP.
He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Engineering from the University of Canberra and a Masters of Environmental Management from the Imperial College, University of London. He takes over SPREP's top job from his previous role as the Head of the UNEP Sub-regional office for the Pacific. He has worked as SPREP's Marine Pollution Adviser and the Director for the Environment Monitoring and Governance Division. He also worked as Conservation International's Fiji Country Director; Environment Director (Pacific) of Sinclair Knight Merz Engineering Consultants; Health Safety and Environment Manager for Shell Pacific Islands Limited; and several senior technical positions within the Fiji Government's Environment and Agriculture Departments.
He is from the village of Naivuruvuru, district of Verata in the province of Tailevu, with maternal links to the village of Vuna on the island of Taveuni. He is married to Talica and they have four children - two boys and two girls.