Keynote Address delivered by the Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum, Henry Puna.
at the 42nd Conference on Ocean, Offshore and Arctic Engineering
12 June 2023, Melbourne, Australia.
Colleagues, and friends,
I begin today by acknowledging the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we are gathered.
I pay my respects to the Elders of this land past, present and future, and I extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here with us today.
I am privileged to be given the honour to join this 42nd Conference on Ocean, Offshore and Arctic Engineering.
I wish I could say that I am amongst colleagues this morning, but alas – this is an audience that is well beyond my intellect and comfort zone, and far more skilled than I could ever be, in this lifetime.
So, do believe me when I say, that it is truly an honour to have been invited, to address you all this morning.
I would like to focus my reflections on the centrality of the Ocean to our Pacific way of life.
For many of you, it is an enigma to be studied and conquered, a resource to be examined and explored, or a source for innovation.
When we define our space in the region and the world, the Ocean forms a foundational part of that definition.
We are large ocean states, where 96 percent of our region is ocean.
We are stewards of over 40 million square kilometers of ocean, spanning nearly 20 percent of the earth’s surface.
It is our biggest endowment for our Pacific Island Countries.
With this in mind, I’d like to share with you some of the work we have progressed, and continue to progress, in this oceanic continent.
[2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent]
Let me take a step back, and introduce who I am, and what I represent.
I am Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum – a political grouping of 18 Pacific countries and territories, including Australia and New Zealand.
Together, the Leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum, represent the collective political will of our Blue Pacific Continent – the phrase that we have adopted to define our home, oceans, lands and common heritage.
Guiding our collective will and vision is the 2050 Strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent – it sets out our long-term approach to working together as a region, and as countries and territories, communities, and people of the Pacific.
It describes the vision and ambition of our collective leadership.
For too long now, we have relied on the goodwill of our partners, to support our development ambitions and aspirations.
While our partnerships remain critical today, we also recognise the need to increasingly progress our own development, so that we become less reliant on development partners in the future.
Indeed, to achieve our Forum Leaders’ vision for 2050, it will require us as a region to be ambitious and decisive, balanced with sustainability principles, and guided by our cultural and traditional values.
With this in mind, I would offer that two key pillars are fundamental to our journey to self-reliance, as one Pacific region:
First, securing and deepening our sovereign rights, over our shared Blue Pacific Continent; and
Second, protecting and appropriately leveraging our shared ecological value – our Ocean.
[Securing and deepening our sovereign rights]
Indeed securing our maritime boundaries, remains a key priority concern for the Pacific Islands Forum. We have a total of 48 shared maritime boundaries in the region, with only 12 remaining to be finalised.
Our collective efforts as a region, are embodied in the political commitment of our Leaders, to support the sustainable management and development, of our ocean resources.
In 1982, the adoption of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, was a seismic shift.
The establishment of exclusive economic zones under the UNCLOS, transformed small islands into large oceans states. It clearly demarcated our ocean borders, and established our rights over ocean areas, that gave great responsibility to our Pacific Island countries.
More recently, our countries have been pushing new boundaries in international law, in our efforts to ensure that our maritime boundaries will remain in perpetuity, and will not be compromised by climate change.
We have issued a regional declaration to this effect, and further, our countries have been at the forefront of a political campaign, to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice, on the legal obligations of States regarding climate change.
[Protecting our shared ecological value]
In turning to the second pillar on our ecological value – this could be one that could benefit from the technical expertise and advice, of this august forum.
If we consider the ecology of our vast ocean environment, we can also recognise that it underpins, our very wellbeing as Pacific peoples.
Our cultural wellbeing is inseparable, from our ocean ecology.
Our food security is dependent on it. Our economies are driven by it, whether that be in the form of tuna fisheries, tourism, ecosystems or biodiversity.
Therefore, if we are to have a viable Oceanic future, the protection of our shared ecological biodiversity, is absolutely essential.
[Leveraging our shared ecological value]
As Pacific Island States, the majority of the area under our legal jurisdiction, as independent and self-governing states, is ocean space.
If we consider how the region has leveraged its shared ecological resource, that is, the ocean – you will find, that the majority of our regional and sub-regional efforts to date, has focused on the fisheries resource.
To this end, our regional Leaders established the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA), to help countries sustainably manage their fisheries resources.
Through this collective approach to ensure sustainable management of our tuna, the Pacific Ocean is home to some of the healthiest tuna stocks, and largest pelagic fishing zones, in the world.
Indeed, Tuna is a valuable fishery for us, and provides up to 80 percent of government revenues, to some of our Pacific Island countries.
In 2021, tuna access fees generated about USD$480 million dollars to the 17 members of the Forum Fisheries Agency. Total employment related to tuna fisheries only is estimated at 30,000. Tuna export value is estimated at more than US$900 million dollars.
However, that figure represents only 4 percent of the end value of the Pacific tuna fishery which was estimated at about US 22 billion dollars.
What do those numbers mean? It mean that we can, and must do more!
I come from a small island state in the Pacific, the Cook Islands.
It has a total land area of 240 square kilometres, and is home to almost 2 million square kilometres of ocean.
To do more with our ocean space, we established by legislation the Marae Moana in 2017, for the sustainable development and conservation of our ocean. This became one of the world’s largest multi-use marine parks.
It was a journey that began over a decade ago, and was premised on the understanding of the vital importance of the ocean space to Cook Islands’ security, prosperity and indeed, its very survival.
The Marae Moana is an Ocean Governance Framework, whose priority is provide long-term intergenerational benefit and security, for its people.
It draws upon oceans management practices, the wisdom of traditional knowledge, and the best available science, to strike a balance between economic interest and conservation ambitions.
While conservation is central to Marae Moana, it recognises that technology continues to evolve rapidly, and as such, it sets environmental sustainability at the forefront of its vision, for all activities undertaken in these waters.
In this room, we have the greatest minds on ocean engineering, in the southern hemisphere.
I cannot underscore how important your innovation, your research, and your work is, to our survival as a region:
Your research teaches us more about the Ocean, that we have the privilege of protecting as its custodians.
Your innovation will propel improved and more sustainable ocean practices, so that our island nations can benefit, from the true value of their ocean space.
It is key to unlocking our potential, to upscale and conduct successful aquaculture activities. This will not only support food security and re-stocking depleted resources, but will also contribute to our economic development.
Indeed, technological innovation will be critical, in not only enhancing our efforts to further develop matured sectors like fisheries, but also critical in allowing us to harness untapped resources and sectors, including deep sea minerals – much like what is envisioned under Marae Moana.
Your work will continue to inform, and shape the direction of ocean governance and practice, in the years and decades to come.
If we as a Pacific region, are to truly succeed as self-reliant nations, we need to be able to harness, the full potential of our natural resources sustainably. You will be critical for us to accomplish this.
To reaffirm, as we strive to ensure a healthy Pacific Ocean, and as large ocean states with limited land-based resources, we look to the ocean, to support our economic and development aspirations.
With those few words, I wish you all the best in your discussions this week, and I look forward to learning from your successes into the future.
Meitaki ma’ata and I thank you.