We must protect our seas

Editorial

PRIME Minister Peter O’Neill has conveyed another powerful message about the imminent threats of pollution, illegal fishing and climate change to Pacific Island nations, including Papua New Guinea.
And he has called on island nations around the world to come together for global action to protect their communities from marine damage.
O’Neill told leaders attending the Pacific Regional Preparatory High-Level Meeting for the United Nations Conference on Oceans in Suva, Fiji, that they had valid marine resources concerns that must be taken up by the global community.
“Pollution, illegal fishing and climate change destroys ecosystems in island nation maritime areas. We did not cause these problems but these problems cause damage to our communities today and into the future.”
The meeting in Suva on Thursday and Friday focused on building consensus and establishing a way forward to seek the global community’s support and assistance in preventing the destruction of marine resources in the island nations.
This is the third occasion that O’Neill has raised concern about the imminent dangers that the Pacific Island community faces.
In 2015, he warned to global leaders attending the COP21 UN climate change conference in Paris to find a workable solution to save lives and protect island communities.
And last year, he warned leaders attending the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) meeting in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, that the threat posed by illegal fishing on their economic survival was growing.
As chairman of the PIF, O’Neill is spearheading the Pacific Island community’s cause for greater attention by the global community on these pertinent issues.
This is part of his address to leaders at the Suva meeting:
“Our ocean and its vast resources, not only provide nourishment for us, it also provides 20 per cent of the world’s protein and economic returns for our countries from fisheries.
Our ocean is a highway for significant shipping and trade generating significant economic value but with minimal returns to us.
But, we are seeing alarming statistics about the health of our ocean; of the poor state of our coral reefs caused by coral bleaching and pollution, of the negative consequences for our marine biodiversity and of the levels of Illegal Unreported and Unregulated fisheries.
So we need to not only make declarations but to accelerate and step up our actions and demand the same of others to restore our ocean’s health, through embracing integrated ocean management approaches and sustainably managing and conserving our coastal, inshore and ocean resources.”
Insofar as Papua New Guinea is concerned, the effects of climate change are already evident in the Carterets Islands, islands in Manus and the outer atolls in coastal provinces that have experienced the rise in the sea level.
While climate change needs a global approach and solution, illegal fishing remains a sticky point for individual island nations.
The PIF meeting last September resolved for greater action in dealing with illegal fishing and related activities.
The increase in illegal fishing and human trafficking, especially by fishermen and companies of Asian origin, in our region is a growing concern.
These illegal activities seriously affect the economic survival of the small island nations, especially when large importers like the European Union and the United States raise questions and threaten to impose trade restrictions.
Efforts by the fisheries authorities of the various, mostly ill-equipped island countries and their collective voice, the Forum Fisheries Agency, have been largely unsuccessful in effectively curbing illegal fishing.
In a way, the PNG National Fisheries Authority (NFA) is far better placed to monitor and report on illegal fishing.
The NFA has, over the years, drawn on the assistance of the maritime element of the PNG Defence Force and the Australian Navy to patrol our waters.
For the smaller island nations, a lot is left to goodwill and hope that sovereign territorial rights will be respected by our neighbours.
Still, we may never get to know the full extent of what is happening on the high seas.
Ongoing incursions into territorial waters are indicative of blatant disrespect for sovereignty. And such a practice does nothing to help mutual relations between countries.
Repercussions of illegal fishing are not only about economic losses for small island nations but there are also greater environmental concerns involving the maintenance of marine species.

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