Keeping the Wonder in the Pacific

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The ocean represents transport, food, culture and livelihoods for people of the Pacific.

A few years ago in Papua New Guinea on a holiday I was lucky enough to spend a day with a fisherman who took me out on his dugout canoe. For hours we slowly skimmed along the surface of the ocean, the clear water providing a wonderful lens to the world below teeming with life. Fish, starfish, coral, eels, plants—a world beyond my wildest imagination.

He pointed out the plants he ate and others he used as traditional medicine. He showed me innocuous-looking creatures that would spell certain death. He showed me the craggy hiding hole of the tail-less crocodile that was the lead character in village folklore. He showed me the fish he caught that fed his family and provided him with an income and how his father had taught him to catch them, like he too had taught his children.

He told me about the traditional conservation methods the community used to prevent over-fishing. To say that the ocean means a lot to him would be a gross understatement. For this man of the sea, the ocean was an extension of himself—his history, his income, his transport, his food, his family. He was full of wonder.

If you ever want to realize your own insignificance on the planet, the ocean is a good place to start. It was here before us and it will be here after us. Our job is quite simple: to protect the wonder for future generations.

This coming week the Pacific Islands Forum meets in the Cook Islands. The ocean and fisheries are front and centre of discussions. Leaders will discuss how they will work together and with donors, the private sector and others to protect the largest and best conserved ocean in the world—the Pacific Ocean. Half the world’s hard coral reefs are found here, amongst the world’s most pristine. It is home to the world’s largest tuna fishery and more than 45,000 Pacific Islanders are involved in commercial fishing, with subsistence numbers ten or twenty times higher.

While it remains one of the most well conserved oceanscapes in the world, the Pacific is under threat from over-fishing, climate change, pollution and illegal fishing that deprives these countries of more than 786,000 tonnes of fish each year.

I hope everyone including the leaders, those involved in the Pacific Oceanscape Framework and Global Partnership for Oceans can come together to help protect the wonder for future generations.

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