Monday, December 28, 2015

Government seeks to create highly protected marine reserve larger than France

Photo credit: Jean Philippe Palasi
The Pew Charitable Trusts today praised France’s plan to consider expanded protections for the waters around the French Southern and Antarctic Lands (known in French as Terres australes et antarctiques françaises, or TAAF) by creating a highly protected marine reserve about 550,000 square kilometers (212,356 square miles) in size, an area slightly larger than mainland France.

If created, the reserve in the southern Indian Ocean would be the first large, highly protected marine sanctuary in French waters and the fifth-largest such marine area in the world. Ségolène Royal, France’s minister for ecology, made the initial announcement in November on behalf of the TAAF administration; she reiterated the government’s intent to create the reserve at the historic U.N. climate talks (COP 21) that recently concluded here.

“These waters are among the most pristine on Earth and of considerable biological importance,” said Nicole Aussedat, a Paris-based officer with Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy campaign. “By creating a highly protected marine reserve, France would establish the gold standard of conservation in this remote and unspoiled part of the world.”

The new reserve would encompass 5 percent of French waters and represent an important step toward meeting global targets for ocean conservation. Scientists have called for at least 30 percent of the world’s ocean to be highly protected through marine reserves in which no extractive activities such as industrial fishing or mining are allowed. Including its overseas territories, France’s waters make up the second-largest exclusive economic zone in the world.

Global Ocean Legacy is working with communities, governments, and scientists in two French territories in the southern Pacific Ocean, New Caledonia and French Polynesia, both of which are recognized for their healthy ecosystems and species diversity. The goal of this effort is to establish large-scale, highly protected marine reserves. The French Polynesia work focuses on helping communities in the Austral Islands safeguard the surrounding waters; the local government has announced support for a 1 million-square-kilometer reserve (386,102 square miles) there, which would become the largest in the world.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Protection of our oceans must go hand-in-hand with the fight against climate change

by President Tommy Remengesau, Jr.

Island nations have been among the first to recognize that our ocean is in trouble. Fish populations are diminishing, while sea levels are rising. We are rapidly approaching a point of no return.

Now, our Pacific island nation, Palau, has enacted landmark legislation closing off 80% of its marine zone to create a vast ocean sanctuary. By safeguarding an area larger than California (about 193,000 square miles), we’ve set aside more of our nation’s waters for full protection than any other country in the world.

For an island nation surrounded by waters still plentiful with fish, this may seem like a bold move. Yet the people of Palau overwhelmingly supported the creation of this ocean refuge.

Mindful of how other islands have suffered from the effects of overfishing, Palauans recognized that we needed to go big in order to protect our livelihoods. We want to make sure our ocean, which is often in the path of poachers, remains full of fish to feed our families for generations to come.

Science shows that fully protected marine areas can help ameliorate the impacts of a changing climate. These marine reserves increase population sizes and reproduction rates of exploited species. Fully protected areas have shown significantly more biomass than unprotected areas, a benefit that can spill over into other parts of the ocean. By safeguarding areas from further degradation, marine reserves facilitate habitat recovery.

That’s why we are one of several island communities, working with The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Ocean Legacy campaign, that have acted this year to establish fully protected marine reserves. In October, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet announced her commitment to work with the indigenous Rapa Nui community of Easter Island to create a marine park around the island, following a proposal by the islanders earlier this year to counteract the dramatic declines in their fish stocks. In March, the UK government announced its intent to establish the world’s largest marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands, following through on a plan submitted by the small island community that lives there.

Together with other commitments – such as the September announcement by New Zealand’s prime minister John Key about his government’s intent to create a 239,000-square-mile sanctuary in the Kermadecs – this has been a historic year for the ocean. In fact, 62% of the total ocean area pledged for high protections has been declared just since September of last year, when Barack Obama expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument originally established in 2009 by President George W Bush.

But there is still much more to be done. Even with these large commitments, less than 2% of the ocean is highly protected – a far cry from the 30% that, according to marine scientists attending the 2014 World Parks Congress in Sydney, would need protection in order to have a meaningful impact on the health of the ocean.

We will not restore the health of our planet without repairing the well-being of the ocean. Our climate is partly driven by our ocean, and marine reserves are one of many important tools that can be used to build the ocean’s resilience against the impacts of climate change.

“The past is responsible for today and today is responsible for what tomorrow will be,” my father told me after one particularly productive day fishing more than 40 years ago.

Full of a young boy’s pride over all the fish I’d caught, I eagerly awaited his praise. Instead, he offered a reproach and an important life lesson: if we are not careful stewards of our ocean, there will be little of it left to depend on.

President Tommy Remengesau is the eighth president of the Republic of Palau, and the first Palauan to be elected president three times.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Palau: That could have been us…and it still can

Guest Commentary
by Cinta Kaipat

For those of you who know me, over the years, I have been a strong advocate for our people and our islands. I have opposed the destruction of our islands by mining companies, industrial fishing interests, and the U.S. military. I founded Beautify CNMI!, co-founded Pagan Watch, Friends of the Monument, and the Alternative Zero Coalition. I don’t see these as separate entities or efforts, but rather part of a single mission: To make our islands a better place to live and pass them down to our children. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but during a lifetime, much can take place.

I was recently tagged in a Facebook story about Palau’s recent decision to designate an ocean sanctuary in 80 percent of their EEZ (“Small Island Nation Makes Big Contribution to Conservation,” Earth Justice). My friend wanted to know why we couldn’t do the same thing, and challenged one of our local leaders to do so. The truth is, several years ago, we tried to do something similar to what Palau just did. This effort resulted in the creation of the Islands Unit of the Marianas Trench Monument. At the time, it was the second largest marine protected area in the world—but we’ve since dropped to 18th. I have to hand it to those Palauans, though—they have a way of looking at something, and flipping it on its head to make it even better.

When I was an advocate for the creation of the Marianas Trench Monument, I imagined a protected area as a circle, a place where no fishing took place on the inside, and fishing took place on the outside. With this model, the far Northern Islands were the perfect place. The islands were already protected by our Constitution and the Monument was meant to ensure that the protections extended from shore out to the extent of the EEZ. Palau just did the opposite of that. They saw it differently. They created a protected area in the shape of a donut – a protected area on the outside, with a fishing area on the inside closest to the islands. The protected area serves as a buffer to foreign fishing fleets and allows fish to grow big and old and then spillover into the indigenous fishing zone closer to shore. What a brilliant idea!

With the amount of development our islands are expected to experience in the coming years, we need to start thinking like our brothers and sisters in Palau. So perhaps it is time to take another look at the Monument. This is a good thing. In many ways, the Monument we got was not the monument we asked for. The designation was opposed by some otherwise reasonable people for all the wrong reasons, and as a result not all of the many potential benefits were realized. At that time, Mrs. Agnes McPhetres told us it was a good “first step” and I continue to believe that. But first steps require a second. And a third.

We should look into what Palau just did and see if it is something that would work here. We followed their lead in implementing the Micronesia Challenge, so why not this, too? Additionally, maybe we can look at some of the lessons learned with our Monument these last few years. And maybe we can ask our neighbors for their help and advice. When we created our Monument, we were only the second place; now, there are more than a dozen.

Cinta M. Kaipat is a lawyer and former member of the CNMI House of Representatives.