THE 45th Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting opened in Palau, Tuesday, with President Tommy Remengesau underscoring the importance of the ocean, the theme of this year’s meeting.
“This meeting provides a unique opportunity for the nations of the region to further the comprehensive approach envisioned by the Oceanscape framework and to taking concrete action to build marine resilience,” Mr Remengesau told leaders.
The meeting’s theme is “Ocean: Life and Future”.
The theme was chosen in-line with Palau’s recent initiative, declaring 80 per cent of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) a marine sanctuary.
Mr Remengesau said the forum also provides an opportunity to express support for the creation of the Pacific Ocean’s Alliance at the third Conference on Small Island Developing States in Samoa in September.
He told visiting leaders Palau has committed to declare the creation of a National Marine Sanctuary of almost 500,000 square kilometres.
“We seek the support of the Pacific for this initiative, as well as all of our government and non-government partners,” the president, who is also the new chair of the Forum, said.
Mr Remengesau said the Pacific is the last great fishing ground so island nations must ensure it is sustained.
“Only through the active assistance from organisations like Conservation International, PEW and The Nature Conservancy, as well as the funding provided by the private sector, will we be able to achieve this goal.
“And only through diverse and active implementation of frameworks such as Oceanscape will we achieve and broad conservation and economic goals that define the term sustainable development,” he said.
Earlier, a conference on ocean attended by experts around the world preluded Tuesday’s opening session.
Meanwhile, New Zealand’s Foreign Affairs minister Murray McCully has welcomed the Oceans theme of the 2014 Pacific Islands Forum and announced new support for efforts to monitor illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Mr McCully is representing New Zealand at the forum after his prime minister John Key could not make it due to domestic commitments.
“New Zealand is committed to the development of the blue economy in the Pacific, and in particular the sustainable management of the region’s fisheries,” Mr McCully said.
“Last year, over US$3.3 billion worth of tuna was harvested from Pacific waters, yet only 14 per cent of that value made its way back to Pacific nations.
“While Pacific countries are working successfully with regional agencies to boost their returns from fisheries, they have the right to expect a larger share of their greatest natural resource.
“New Zealand has committed $66 million over the next five years for fisheries management and development in the Pacific.
“Today we are announcing a further $4.6 million to improve the management of fisheries information in the region. Sharing and analysing fisheries data is vital for monitoring and enforcement.
“Our funding will implement national fisheries information management systems in all Forum Fisheries Agency countries, setting up e-reporting and e-monitoring of catch and stocks, and facilitating better coordination across the Pacific region.
“Today New Zealand has also signed the Niue Treaty Subsidiary Agreement on regional fisheries cooperation. This valuable tool enhances cooperation in the areas of fisheries surveillance, enforcement, and information sharing in the Pacific.
“In a month’s time oceans will once again be in the spotlight at the UN Small Islands Developing States conference in Apia. At the conference New Zealand will team up with the Pacific Island Forum Fisheries Agency to showcase how the region is using its collective strength to improve management and secure larger economic benefits from fisheries,” Mr McCully said.
Prime Minister Gordon Darcy Lilo is leading the country’s delegation to the Forum.
Other officials attending are Minister of Foreign Affairs Clay Forau and his permanent secretary, Minister of Planning and Aid Coordination Connelly Sandakabatu and his permanent secretary, and other senior government officials.
By OFANI EREMAE
in Koro, Palau