Monday, November 17, 2014

French Territories leading the way - addressing ocean conservation

View from a Pacific island - image courtesy of Ian Lyons

17 November 2014, Sydney, Australia - The Pacific islands region (Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia) is renowned for its immense natural beauty. We naturally conjure up images of colourful coral reefs, majestic marine animals, white sandy beaches, swaying coconut trees, low-lying coral atolls, and mountainous volcanic islands. The Pacific Ocean covers one-third of the Earth’s surface, but is home to only seven natural World Heritage sites. What challenges are preventing more sites in the Pacific being recognised and how do we better manage these Big Ocean areas?

On Saturday 15 November, at the World Parks Congress Oceans+ Pavilion, leaders from French island territories shared their experience with the non-French Pacific in addressing the challenges they face in marine conservation. SPREP Director General, David Sheppard, and Xavier Sticker, French Ambassador for the Environment, co-chaired a series of success stories on marine sanctuaries across the Pacific, from the Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMA) up to the large marine protected areas recently being established by Pacific leaders.

French Polynesia is leading the way with a 5.5 million square kilometre marine sanctuary that includes 5 archipelagos and 118 islands. However there is still a need for management of these large marine protected areas.

“I think we have the biggest mammal and shark sanctuary in the region, if not in the world, said Heremoana Maamaatuaiahutapu, Minister for Environment and Culture, French Polynesia.“Our intention is to increase that to two more areas, which will bring the total sanctuary area to seven million square kilometres,” he said.

Referring to the need to combine efforts, he said, “So what we are trying to say is we are not small islands but large ocean countries. -If we take into account all our combined Exclusive Economic Zones, we are the biggest Ocean marine park.”

The Minister added that “One major educational project in Marquesas was initiated by the kids and we are proud of this intergenerational initiative. It shows that our children have grasped the importance of conservation, thanks to our elders.”

The French Ambassador for Environment, Xavier Sticker said, “France has a special place in the Pacific. France acts through its territories to add value to the Pacific people, where livelihoods depend on a regional approach to management of our ocean and island natural assets. France would like to act in a strong collaborative mindset across bilateral and multilateral structures to achieve this.”

The Ambassador added that France was proud to work alongside Pacific leaders in achieving their environmental aspirations. “We take every opportunity to undertake action; we are impressed with what other countries are doing in terms of conservation. We know the links with conservation, with the people, and we want to build alliance”.

The Minister for the Environment for French Polynesia echoed similar sentiments saying that, “Although in some areas they are enjoying the fruits of their labour, one issue that all Pacific communities are facing is the external pressures from global cash economies, and the capacity to participate in actions to address the multiple impacts on our environments.”

New Caledonia Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development, Anthony Lecren

Mr Anthony Lecren, New Caledonia’s Minister for Environment and Sustainable Development said, “Great diversity in the Pacific and our Big Ocean assets has already inspired our leaders and communities to better network across countries, and we as islanders should start living that Big Ocean network.”

David Sheppard and Xavier Sticker both agreed that the combined talent and capacity across our French and non-French communities in the Pacific will lead to a far greater capacity for the Pacific to address common challenges in adapting to climate change, global economic drivers and management of our large oceanscapes.

The Saturday evening event ended on a high note with great hope that progress in collaborations of a new nature with the French territories of the Pacific will be imminent. A simple but extremely moving dance performance by Uuheinui Haiti, the 13 year-old youth education ambassador from the Marquesas, in French Polynesia, became an unspoken but heartfelt call to action for us all.

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