Pacific island states push for post-MDG pact on oceans

Copyright: Fredrik Naumann / Panos

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  • Dependent on ocean resources, Pacific islands want a defined goal on this
  • Sustainability is key to ensuring a healthy and well-managed marine environment
  • A specific SDG on oceans and seas will contribute to high-level engagement

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[APIA] Coastal and marine conservation efforts in the Pacific region will benefit from a “stand alone” Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) to achieve “healthy, productive and resilient oceans and seas,” according to the Pacific SDG Working Group Troika.
The troika, which is made up of Nauru, Palau and Papua New Guinea, is advocating the specific SDG as part of the post-2015 global agenda that will succeed the UN Millennium Development Goals. The troika says that the conservation and protection of oceans are crucial to eradicating poverty in the region.
With over ten million residents living on some 30,000 islands spread across the vast Pacific Ocean, the Pacific island countries depend heavily on ocean resources for their livelihoods and survival.
Although conservation efforts are well under way in the Pacific, numerous challenges remain that an ocean-focused SDG could address.
In a statement delivered by Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. during the eighth session of the UN Open Working Group on SDGs on 3 February 2014 in New York, the troika argued that a defined goal would underscore the urgency of a healthy and well-managed marine environment that is “essential to sustaining life and livelihoods”.  
“This requires the development of marine protected areas and other types of ecosystem-based conservation measures, reducing pollution, and addressing the causes and impacts of coral bleaching and ocean acidification,” the joint statement said.
Tim Carruthers, coastal and marine advisor to the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), agrees that sustainability is key to securing healthy oceans and seas.
“The issues on oceans include the sustainable development of coastal areas to ensure the retention of intact habitats, which are critical to supporting inshore fisheries and coastal protection,” Carruthers says.
“This entails appropriate land use practices that include areas from ridges to reefs, limiting the erosion of topsoil that adds nutrients and sediments to inshore and reef areas, and safeguarding corals, sea grass and inshore fisheries to secure the protective function of healthy coral reefs,” he adds.
The Apia-based SPREP, which serves 21 Pacific island countries, has played an active role in coastal and marine conservation programmes such as the Pacific Oceanscape Framework. Launched in 2010, the framework establishes a regional alliance to implement strategic priorities for the sustainable development, management and conservation of the world’s biggest ocean.
Carruthers stresses that a specific SDG on oceans and seas will contribute to high-level engagement. “A stand-alone SDG would raise awareness and highlight mechanisms to address the specific challenges needed to engage high-level commitment,” he says.
“The mechanisms to move forward are already in place in the Pacific,” he points out. “Some need to be moved forward, supported or funded. An ocean-specific SDG will assist in providing the focus and accountability to address these ongoing challenges."
He notes these challenges include unsustainable fishing practices such as overfishing, which are particularly evident in coastal fisheries and endanger some offshore marine species.
To ensure the prioritisation of oceans in the global development agenda, Pacific nations will put this on top of their list of recommendations to the third UN Conference on Small Island Developing States to be held in Samoa in September.
Last week (24 February), the UN launched the International Year of Small Island Developing State as “a chance to address increasing environmental degradation, and social and economic marginalization in those countries”.
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This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's South-East Asia & Pacific desk.