Last week I had the great pleasure and honour of attending the Pacific Islands Forum in Majuro in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. It’s always a great event. Together with CI’s Greg Stone and Ginny Farmer, I met with old conservation and Pacific friends, made new ones and laughed about how we in the Pacific do things. It was a long week, with long hours and hard work for everyone, but in the end these gatherings are always productive.
Among the outcomes of this year’s meeting, one that I am especially excited about is the growth in support for the Micronesia Challenge (MC), a great conservation initiative aiming to protect a species-rich area that represents more than 20% of the Pacific Islands region.
The Pacific region of Micronesia (which includes the Marshall Islands, Palau, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia) is home to 1,300 species of fish and 483 kinds of corals — 60% of the world’s known corals. It has been estimated that Micronesia’s coral reefs provide about US$ 800 million in annual benefits for people.
Launched in 2006, the MC is a commitment to conserve at least 30% of nearshore marine resources and 20% of terrestrial resources across northern Micronesia by 2020 — an area which would equal 5% of the entire Pacific Ocean. This groundbreaking initiative aims to help participating countries effectively manage the natural resources on which all Micronesians depend for a healthy future — to sustain livelihoods while protecting their unique island cultures.
Over the past seven years, there has been substantial progress. This includes the establishment or strengthening of more than 150 protected areas covering over 6,800 square kilometers (2,625 square miles), leveraging over $20 million in operational funds, including an endowment that currently stands at over $13 million to sustainably support this effort into the future.
During a luncheon CI co-hosted at the Forum with the leaders of MC participating countries, The Nature Conservancy and the Micronesia Conservation Trust, CI completed our $1 million pledge to the RMI Micronesia Challenge Endowment Fund. This is the first installation of our $3 million dollar pledge made to the MC; the remaining $2 million will be committed equally to Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia trust funds in coming years.
The Marshall Islands has a total of 29 atolls — 1,200 islands that collectively equal the size of Washington, D.C., spread across 181 square kilometers (70 square miles). The country faces various conservation challenges, including climate change — particularly drought and sea level rise — and food and water insecurity. To fight these conditions, great work is underway, including the development of the Reimaanlok [conservation area] Plan, a protected area network and the National Action Plan to Combat Desertification and Drought.
On the ground, Marshallese communities are being engaged to support such measures and take action themselves. A great example of this is the creation of a “mobile team” by the U.N. Population Fund and the Marshall Islands government as part of their integrated development agenda.
Members of the mobile team travel to various islands to raise awareness of diverse conservation issues. To increase fresh water security, the team trains volunteers in each community to collect samples and treat the local water supplies. To support improved sustainable fisheries management, team members conduct biological samples to determine fish growth rates and spawning seasons. They then share these findings with local people to empower them to take action.
I am always impressed by the great conservation initiatives that come from Pacific nations, such as the Micronesia Challenge, Fiji’s locally managed marine areas and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. I have great admiration for their vision, and how their actions not only benefits local people but have impact further afield, inspiring other initiatives across the globe.
I hope CI’s newest MC commitment will help keep such vital community conservation work going into the future. I am proud to be working with such a dedicated team of conservation practitioners and working on initiatives so far-reaching and ambitious in scope. Year by year, our voices in the Pacific are getting louder.
In the words of local biologist Dr. Margie Falanruw: “Islands are sentinels of what is to come, as what happens to islands will eventually befall the rest of the world.” We must act now and build on such great momentum, to conserve these vital ecosystems and amplify this work globally to conserve the world’s natural capital for future generations to enjoy.
Schannel van Dijken is the marine program manager for CI’s Pacific Islands program, based out of Samoa.