In New Zealand, the Pacific Oceanscape Adds to its Winning Team

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area, a World Heritage site and part of the Pacific Oceanscape.

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area, a World Heritage site and part of the Pacific Oceanscape. (Photo: © Cat Halloway)

Recently, a team from Conservation International was at the Pacific Islands Forum in New Zealand, where world leaders celebrated the first anniversary of the Pacific Oceanscape — one of the most audacious projects in the history of ocean management. Here, CI’s Sue Miller Taei recaps her experiences; Dr. Greg Stone’s, CI’s chief scientist for oceans, weighed in on his own experiences earlier this week.

As a child growing up in Auckland in the 1970s, my family life was dominated by two things: the ocean (which I loved) and rugby (which, at the time, I didn’t — picture my sister and I having to stand on the sidelines of many rugby games in cold winters, watching either our dad or our brothers play).

I mention this only because this week, I’ve returned home to New Zealand from Samoa to help CI, along with the heads of state of Kiribati, the Cook Islands and Tokelau, celebrate the first anniversary of the Pacific Oceanscape. It’s also the start of the Rugby World Cup, and Auckland has gone rugby-mad, with teams and thousands of tourists coming to the city!

In the midst of these mad-cap celebrations, the CI team and I are focusing on the ocean and its future. Specifically, in the last week, we’ve worked with partners to make new announcements about the future of the Pacific Oceanscape. In rugby speak, we’ve scored four tries (like a touchdown in American football) — and they’re adding to a growing list of achievements since the launch of the Pacific Oceanscape.

The first “try” came from a fellow “CI” — in this case, the Cook Islands — when Prime Minister Henry Puna announced that the country would establish a new, 1 million-square-kilometer marine park, the largest in the world, as its commitment to the Pacific Oceanscape.

Sue Miller Taei, marine program director at CI, shakes hands with President Tong of Kiribati.(Photo: © Adrian Malloch)

That was quickly followed by a score from Foua Toloa, the “Ulu” (or head of government) of Tokelau, who announced a commitment to a new sanctuary for whales, dolphins, turtles and sharks — more than 300,000 square kilometers of protection.

A rugby team is led by a captain, and in this case, the Republic of Kiribati — which, supported by CI, has led on the Pacific Oceanscape — hosted the event where our partners made these happy announcements. President Anote Tong inspired all present to join the Pacific Oceanscape voyage, a voyage of learning, discovery and cooperation for our ocean’s future. It’s no small task. These countries are caretakers for nearly 40 million square kilometers of ocean, about four times the size of the continental U.S.

Right now, it’s 3 a.m., time to head to the airport and back home to Samoa. The Pacific Oceanscape event was a huge success, and I am really proud to have been part of it. My only issue left as I depart Auckland is to work out who I should be supporting this week in rugby — the All Blacks (as I am a New Zealand kiwi of some seven generations) or the Manu Samoa (as I’ve lived in Samoa with my Samoan “aiga,” or family, for nearly 20 years now)!

Thank goodness I don’t have to pick sides when it comes to the ocean in our region. Our states are united behind the Pacific Oceanscape and the need to protect it. From any viewpoint, the Pacific Oceanscape is a winner, and our team of supporters is growing. Come join our team!

Ka kite ano (“goodbye” in the language of the New Zealand Maori), Tofa soifua (“goodbye” in Samoan), and Go the Manu!

Sue Miller Taei is CI’s Pacific Islands Program Marine Director.

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