"Change comes from within"

08 June 2011 | News story

Statement by Taholo Kami, Regional Director of IUCN Oceania on the occassion of World Oceans Day, 8 June 2011.

We in the Pacific are an oceanic people. Centuries ago, our forefathers navigated this vast Pacific Ocean in search of better opportunities to make a living and we have since depended on the ocean for our sustenance. Spanning a hundred and sixty-five million square miles, the Pacific Ocean is the world’s largest geographic feature. Its waves run ashore on the coastlines and beaches of 56 Pacific Island and Rim Countries and Territories.

For Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) alone, the Pacific Ocean is an intrinsic part of the lives of the people – featuring in the culture, legends and histories of all the Pacific peoples, providing a source of seafood for families and, more recently, an important source of revenue for Pacific economies. In short, the Pacific Ocean is an integral part of the unique fabric that is the Pacific Way of Life.

Once considered boundless, Pacific Ocean resources are now under serious threat. The economic needs of our countries have led to fishing practices that are both destructive and excessive, with over-fishing of valuable species becoming more common. It is estimated that roughly 80% of the world’s marine fish stocks today are fully- or over-exploited.

Infrastructure developments and changes in coastal communities often have repercussions on coastal and near-shore ecosystems, affecting the quality and area of crucial habitats and nursery areas to the point that 20% of global mangrove cover has been lost over the past 20 years. Coral reefs are under threat with 35% expected to be lost within the next decades, in addition to 19% of the original area of coral reefs that has already been lost to the world.

Pollution, in the form of sewage, fertilizer run-off, plastic marine debris, toxic dumping and oil spills, urban run-off and dispersed pollutants, is one of the most critical classes of ocean threats. Plastics accumulate in vast areas in the North Pacific Gyre and on beaches and shorelines around the Pacific, clogging habitats and impacting on seabirds, turtles, sea mammals, and fish. The rate of breakdown of some chemicals found in plastics is so slow that they take decades to degrade.

Climate Change has compounded the threats. Increasing carbon in the atmosphere is raising acidity levels in oceans - this can have devastating effects on ocean ecosystems. Ocean warming and rising sea levels will also impact life in and around oceans. There are no short cuts to dealing with this issue but to continue to call for effective actions on reducing carbon in the atmosphere and adapting to a changing ocean.

Recently, there have been a number of major regional initiatives which have increased the scale of conservation activities throughout the Pacific Ocean with positive impacts. NGO- and stakeholder-driven initiatives such as the Coral Triangle Initiative, the Micronesia Challenge, and the Forum Leaders’-endorsed Pacific Oceanscape have garnered much attention with their recent successes. Together with programmes coordinated by regional organisations, these are prime examples of the growing emphasis on ocean- and ecosystem-related conservation efforts in the Pacific Ocean region. Further support and commitment from Pacific countries is needed if we are to make a profound change in improving the health of the Pacific Ocean.

Limitations of scale restrict positive impacts of existing initiatives to within Economic Exclusive Zones (EEZs) of individual, or a few countries. IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is committed to working with partners and stakeholders in the Pacific Island and Pacific Rim region to take the ocean conservation efforts to new levels, using Pacific Ocean-wide approaches to tackle threats to our common resource.

Wednesday, 8th June 2011, marks World Oceans Day. Every year this day is celebrated worldwide to draw attention to our oceans, the one single natural entity that unites us all. This year, recognition is being given to the fact that young people are the most knowledgeable and motivated segment of the population when it comes to the environment and its protection. Thus World Oceans Day 2011 will be celebrated with a 2 year theme, Youth: The next wave for change”. Whether you live inland or on the coast, we are all connected to the ocean; take the time to think about how the ocean affects you, and how you affect the ocean. This year, we encourage you to reach out to young people in your community and help inspire them. The future of ocean conservation is in their hands!

Change comes from within and, in that sense, simple changes such as using less plastic, ensuring that we as individuals don’t litter, dispose of our rubbish in appropriate ways, use recyclable materials and goods, etc are important steps that can contribute to conserving our environment and, ultimately, our Pacific Ocean. As communities, it is important to lobby for and participate in marine management measures to conserve our coastal ecosystems and resources. As a nation, it is our responsibility to protect the marine resources that provide so much for our economy, either through revenue earnings from fisheries, or tourism returns for marine-based tourism activities such as diving etc. Legislation and policies are being updated, and must be kept so, in keeping with the growing needs for conservation, and improvements in science and understanding of these critical resources.