Four distinct voices from the Pacific came together for the first Future Pasifika event at the University of the South Pacific (USP) – a new forum for local thought leaders to share ideas on how the Pacific Islands can work together to tackle the big issues facing this unique and vulnerable region. The inaugural event focused on the central importance of healthy oceans.
Zakiyyah Ali, USP student and Project Survival Pacific representative, joined Maureen Penjueli from the Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG), Dr. Stuart Kininmonth, from USP’s School of Marine Studies, and local pearling entrepreneur Justin Hunter. All agreed that business as usual cannot continue if we are to ensure the long-term health of the Pacific’s ocean waters.
More than 120 people attended the event at USP’s Laucala campus, with hundreds more joining online from Australia to India to the United States, to hear about climate change impacts, over-fishing, and the roles industry, communities and governments can play in improving the health of the Pacific Ocean.
Dr. Kinimonth set the tone when he emphasized the importance of quickly adapting and preparing the Pacific’s reefs and marine ecosystems for the impacts of climate change, which are already being felt in the region.
“We have to start looking at global issues like over-fishing, run-off from catchments. We have to try to get our reefs strong and healthy, so that when the storm does arrive, we’ve got a chance to get through it in a way that will work for the Pacific,” Dr. Kininmonth said.
Pearling entrepreneur Justin Hunter, whose company committed to the UN’s Blue Pledge for sustainable pearl farming, highlighted the importance of the private sector’s role in not only positively contributing to ocean health, but also in helping to drive solutions along with government, NGOs and development organizations.
“The best thing we can do today in Fiji to support our oceans is to eradicate poverty. We don’t have the sewerage systems in place, we allow over-fishing. You can put in place all the [Marine Protected Areas] you want, but if someone can’t feed their family, you can’t expect someone to honor them… So the only way we’re going to do that – eradicate poverty – is to create economic returns based on conservation.”
PANG’s Maureen Penjueli highlighted both the need for education on over-fishing on the local level, as well as greater regulation of internationally run super seiners – large vessels that can catch vast numbers of fish in a few hours.
“The fishermen who are going out at night with their torches, is there a way education can help them to understand the more complex issues around the depletion of fish and fish stocks?” Penjueli asked the audience.
“Communities’ stories are always the same: when the industrial fishing boats came in, the pressure increased, and they’re having to go out further and further and at night, just to put food on the table. So who do we hold responsible for livelihoods? ....We need to bring the landowners and communities’ voices, into this discussion around resources – and do that better, because we’re not doing it well enough.”
The panelists and audience alike raised the topic of marine pollution – particularly plastic pollution and the bans on single-use plastic bags, straws and other materials now rolling out across the region. For youth representative Zakiyyah Ali, the Pacific needs to put greater emphasis on ensuring the world’s biggest ocean-polluting nations – all five of which are in East Asia – are driving solutions to the problem.
“It’s called the ‘Great Pacific Garbage Patch’, and yet how much have we in the Pacific really contributed to it? I think it’s unfair that we have to foot the bill for what other rich[er] countries have done,” Ali argued.
PANG’s Maureen Penjueli went further: “So many resources are going into the cleanup. Yet we have to go after the production; we have to go after the hard stuff and try to minimize so we’re not dealing with behavioral changes on this side.”
The next Future Pasifika event on digital connectivity will be held October 2, 2019.