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Op-Ed: Why the Ocean is Top of the Agenda

Every single one of us is affected by the ocean. It’s all connected and it connects us all.

Similarly, no one entity can be charged with protecting this all-important resource. The world’s largest ocean and one of the most unspoiled — the Pacific Ocean — will be centre stage next week as leaders from Pacific Island Countries are joined by delegations from around the world at the Pacific Islands Forum in Rarotonga.

At this year’s Forum, the Pacific Ocean is high on the agenda and rightly so. This ocean that borders countries including Papua New Guinea, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu is the lifeline for many. Half of the world’s hard coral reefs are found here, including the world’s most pristine. It is home to the world’s largest tuna fishery, with the Western and Central Pacific now providing nearly 60 percent of the global tuna catch. More than 45,000 Pacific Islanders are involved in commercial fishing, with subsistence numbers 10 or 20 times higher.

While it remains one of the most ecologically intact oceanscapes in the world, the Pacific is under threat. Preventing its over-exploitation is now top of the agenda.

For Pacific Island Countries tuna stocks are an all-important source of wealth and a key source of growth. But currently, these countries are not getting a fair deal for their fish, with estimates that they are losing more than $68 million a year in net benefits from their tuna alone. Each year, more than 786,000 tons of fish are illegally taken from the Pacific. Preventing chronic assaults from overfishing is a priority that many Pacific nations have voiced.

But overfishing is not the only threat. Climate change and changes in ocean chemistry brought on by increased atmospheric carbon dioxide entering the ocean are real, and present risks to livelihoods and food security in the region.

Most Pacific countries face significant impacts from sea level rise with the expected decline of coral reefs and other marine organisms due to ocean acidification. Pollution is also a major problem with an estimated 3.5 million tons of rubbish gathering in the Pacific from around the world. The color of paradise is quickly fading.

Worldwide there are now over 400 dead zones about the size of New Zealand where simply no marine life can survive. A fifth of coral reefs have been destroyed and eighty-five percent of the world’s fisheries are fully or over-exploited, with some (like New England Cod) showing no signs of recovery despite heroic, if belated, efforts to restore them.

The Pacific is in a more fortunate position relative to other seas, but the region must act now.

Next week, governments and organizations will come together in unity to support Pacific Countries and build on important initiatives like the Oceanscape Framework, endorsed by Pacific Island leaders in September 2010, to focus attention on improving ocean governance, promoting conservation along with sustainable use, and adapting to rapid change.

These partners are looking to protect a valuable source of wealth while also seeking a better and fairer deal for the people who manage it. Creating a fairer system, with the right mix of incentives can help spur better stewardship of these valuable assets.

It’s not just in Pacific Islanders’ interest, but in the interests of all global citizens that we work together to keep this all important resource healthy.



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