Statement by the Honourable Henry Puna
Pacific Oceans Commissioner,
Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum
8 June 2021
THE OCEAN: LIFE AND LIVELIHOODS
• Honourable Kausea Natano, Prime Minister of Tuvalu and Pacific Islands Forum Chair
• The United Nations Secretary General’s Special Envoy on Ocean Ambassador, Peter Thomson
• Reverend James Bhagwan of the Pacific Conference of Churches.
• Our young ocean champions:
• Nicole Yamase
• Kathrilla Rikeo
• Hereiti File
• and Ann-Mary Raduva
• Members of the Pacific Ocean Alliance
• Our development partners
• Ladies and Gentlemen of our Blue Pacific Continent
• Kia orana, I bring you warm Pacific greetings.
In 2017, as the then Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, I took one clear message to the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York – Mankind only has one earth, one atmosphere, and one global ocean. One last chance to save it all, for future generations.
Today, I address you in my capacity as Pacific Ocean Commissioner, and let me tell you, it is for me a great honour, to be able to champion on the global stage, an issue that I am so personally passionate about – our Pacific Ocean.
Today, the last-chance call resonates with added urgency. One last chance to let our children, and their children know that we took action for our Ocean, and our one global ocean, because we cared for their future.
For the Pacific, the Ocean is our very life and livelihood – it is the one common resource that we all share, and is the basis of our identity, as the Blue Pacific.
As Pacific people, we are entrusted the responsibility as stewards, of this great ocean. We are all born conservationists – it is in our stories, it is in our communal wisdom, it is in our blood. In short, it is our DNA.
Today, sea levels are rising due to climate change, threatening our very livelihoods in atoll states, and coastal settlements throughout the region.
Acidity levels continue to rise in our oceans, placing in jeopardy our marine biodiversity, and our ecosystems. This is further exacerbated by plastic and general pollution everywhere.
To many, these words are mere rhetoric, but not to me or to the people of the Pacific. To us the Ocean is like a mother…feeding us, nourishing us, sustaining us, caring for us, from the cradle to the grave. Before I became the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, and long before I became the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, I was a Pearl Farmer on a small atoll island of Manihiki, and I relied on the generosity of the sea for my sustenance.
Therefore, it has pained me to watch, the evolving decline in our Ocean’s health over time. And indeed, this is one of the reasons that I have worked so hard, to champion Ocean conservation at the national level – the Marae Moana will always be an initiative, that I am profoundly proud of.
The Marae Moana legislation provides the framework, to make resourcing decisions on integrated management, through adopting a precautionary approach to the marine environment. Simply put, decisions are evidence-based on the available scientific, and technical data.
Informed policy decision making is absolutely crucial.
This is why this Decade of Ocean Science, launched in the last fortnight, will be instrumental to Ocean Governance and Conservation, and must underpin the achievement of our aspirations, under Sustainable Development Goal 14 – Life below Water.
In this decade 2021 – 2030, we should aim to use the knowledge and data on the marine environment, in a more coordinated and integrated fashion, to better inform decision-making processes, and management actions.
Equally important, we must capitalise on the framework offered by the Decade of Ocean science on inclusivity – to strengthen connections, and weave partnerships between all communities working to study, conserve, and sustainably use the ocean, and its resources.
Friends, our part of planet Earth – the Blue Pacific Continent is 96% ocean. And at this moment in time, I believe the Ocean will play a critical role, as we seek to recover from the social and economic impacts, of COVID19.
For us, the Ocean is our past, our present, and our future. In recognising this very sentiment, our Pacific Leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to our ocean, through their Ocean Statement earlier this year. It outlines their aspirations and commitments, to save our Oceans. Together, with our regional suite of ocean policies and frameworks, the Ocean Statement will serve, as the basis for our collective and uniform advocacy, moving forward.
As Pacific Ocean Commissioner, I will work diligently with all stakeholders, including the Pacific Ocean Alliance, to ensure our Leaders’ calls are amplified and progressed across our Blue Pacific, and, moreso, through global engagement and advocacy.
As we celebrate World Ocean Day, and embark on the Ocean Decade, I call on us all, to make the most of the opportunities afforded us, to ensure that we have the science we need, to sustainably manage and protect our Oceans. In doing so, we must always remember, and indeed celebrate our inherent conservationist practices, that are encompassed within our very own traditional practices, and knowledge.
With these few words, I wish us all – the stewards of our great Pacific Ocean, a wonderful World Ocean Day. Embrace your role, embrace your responsibility, and Fight for the Ocean that we all love, our Mother.
I thank you.