Auckland is in the final throes of its preparations for the opening game of the Rugby World Cup. So what is an American marine scientist doing wandering the streets of this bustling New Zealand city? The RWC may be the main story here, but in the preceding week, Auckland has also been home to the 42nd Pacific Islands Forum. Leaders from the 15 Pacific member nations, along with U.N. Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon and European Union President José Manuel Barroso, have spent the week talking about some of the big problems facing the region — from the return of democracy in Fiji to the very real impact that climate change is having on many of these low-lying nations.
I’ve been here with my Conservation International colleagues, Sue Taei, Mike Donoghue and Schannel van Dijken. Along with our partners, we have been celebrating the first anniversary of the Pacific Oceanscape — a collaborative agreement covering 38.5 million square kilometers, or an area four times the size of continental Europe. Its purpose is to provide a framework for an integrated management of the Pacific Ocean and covers things like ocean health and security, governance, and sustainable use of resources.
We had a wonderful celebration, but most importantly, some major new commitments were made. President Anote Tong from Kiribati hosted the event, which was very fitting and added significant weight to the festivities. President Tong has led the charge for the Pacific Oceanscape, presenting the concept to Pacific Islands Forum leaders in 2009, and shepherded the project to formal recognition last year. Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) is also the Oceanscape’s foundation site.
Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna was also present. The Cook Islands has declared half of its Exclusive Economic Zone as a marine park, overtaking PIPA for the title of world’s largest marine protected area — a nice example of friendly competition that benefits so many.
In addition, Tokelau’s Faipule Foua Toloa, the Ulu (or head of state) of the territory, announced that his government was designating its waters as a sanctuary for marine mammals, turtles and sharks.
Following these significant contributions, further commitments were made; President Tong revealed the identity of the first Pacific Oceanscape Commissioner, Forum Secretary General Tuiloma Neroni Slade, and two major new funders also added their support.
It was an incredibly moving evening, and it was impressive to see a coalition of world leaders making strong commitments and to hear passion for the protection of this vast ocean — not just for the people who depend on its resources for their livelihoods and well-being, but also for the ecosystems that sustain it.
Dr. Greg Stone is CI’s chief scientist for oceans.