In contributing to the theme of the International Year of Water Cooperation, this article provides a perspective from a Pacific Small Island Developing State. In the context of the large body of water that surrounds Fiji and other Pacific Small Island Developing States (SIDS), a vital and long-standing concern has been the sustainable exploitation of the ocean's living resources and, more recently, the non-living or mineral resources.
Fiji is an archipelago of over 300 islands scattered across 1.3 million square kilometres of the South Pacific Ocean. In comparison to that large expanse of water, Fiji's land area is a mere 18,333 square kilometres. The Fiji archipelago is a part of the Oceanic group of islands. As one of the 14 island countries located within the Pacific Ocean, Fiji's relatively small land size and large ocean real estate or exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is not unique. Taken together, the total land mass of the 14 Pacific island States is a mere 3 per cent compared to their combined EEZs, totalling 97 per cent of the ocean. For Fiji and the Pacific Island countries, the ocean provides the basis of our livelihoods, food security and economies. Sustainable development truly depends on a healthy and sustainably managed Pacific Ocean.
As a resource and the basis of our livelihoods, the ocean represents both opportunities and challenges. As an island nation surrounded by the sea, we are, on the one hand, at the mercy of the ocean but, on the other hand, the custodians of its resources. These resources sustain us today, and without them future generations will suffer, which is why we are vigilant about destructive fishing practices, oppose illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing and call for the strengthening of Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs).
A major part of the environmental and climatic challenges we face is influenced by the ocean that surrounds us. Changing winds, ocean currents, hurricanes and storms are all a result of the interplay between the ocean and the atmosphere.
This article highlights the few priority areas and challenges faced by Fiji in ensuring the sustainable exploitation of the ocean's resources. In addressing these issues, reference is made to the Pacific SIDS as a whole since the challenges identified are not unique to Fiji but common to all Pacific SIDS.
The sustainable development of the Pacific SIDS depends on their receiving a fair share of the revenues and other means of active economic participation from their fisheries and other marine resources. Currently, the Pacific SIDS do not enjoy equitable economic and social benefits derived from the use of living marine resources despite our overwhelming dependence on them.
The sustainable development challenges of SIDS have already been well recognized in the existing multilateral framework for both oceans and sustainable development, yet progress towards the implementation of effective strategies to address them remains piecemeal, insufficiently supported and inadequate. The disconnect between the international instruments governing oceans on the one hand, and sustainable development on the other hand, has created barriers to the full realization of development aspirations of SIDS and, in many instances, is a primary barrier to the achievement of national economic development goals.
Firm and measurable commitment is required to more fully address the legitimate development aspirations of SIDS as contained in the 1995 United Nations Fish Stocks Agreement. The Pacific SIDS see the imperative for a concrete pathway for States, with specific timelines, targets and milestones to facilitate the sustainable management of oceanic resources and increase the share of benefits from their utilization. This should include enhanced direct economic participation and capacity-building. The cooperation and assistance of the international community is also necessary to enable SIDS to realize their development aspirations.
Healthy fish stocks are critical for food security and for sustaining the economic prosperity and social and cultural well-being of many States. One of the most serious gaps in the implementation of relevant outcomes of the major summits on sustainable development is in the area of fisheries. Although countries agreed in the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation to restore global fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2015, stocks continue to be fished at increasingly unsustainable levels. To address this problem, States should recommit to maintaining or restoring depleted fish stocks to sustainable levels, and should further commit to implementing science-based management plans for rebuilding stocks by 2015, including reducing or suspending fishing catch for all stocks being overfished or at risk of being overfished.
More needs to be done to improve transparency and accountability in fishery management if we are to address this decline. The commendable efforts by RFMOs that have undertaken independent performance reviews should be expanded and augmented through regular transparent reviews by the United Nations General Assembly to bring RFMO implementation in line with international commitments. Previous Assembly reviews of the implementation of fisheries management goals, such as on the driftnet fishing moratorium and on impact assessments for bottom fisheries, have resulted in positive reforms that would not likely have occurred without its oversight. General Assembly reviews of RFMO performance can be expected to improve its effectiveness and should generate the political will necessary to take critical action to restore fish stocks to sustainable levels. It is unfortunate that the proposed disciplines in the World Trade Organization on fisheries subsidies, which contribute to the overexploitation of fisheries resources, have not been agreed to. It is crucial for the Pacific SIDS, such as Fiji, that subsidies for commercial fishing which result in unsustainable and destructive practices be curbed, while artisanal and small-scale fisheries by coastal States, where fishing is a way of life, should be allowed to operate.
The Pacific SIDS have shown global leadership in marine conservation, for example, through the creation of marine protected areas and adoption of innovative solutions, such as vessel day trading schemes as well as targeted high seas closures, to address sustainable fishing goals. Other innovative strategies geared towards the sustainable exploitation of marine and ocean resources include dealing more aggressively with IUU fishing, introducing Fish Aggregating Device seasonal bans, and eliminating destructive fishing practices.
CLIMATE CHANGE AND OCEAN ACIDIFICATION
The third priority area for Fiji relates to the consequences of climate change, including ocean acidification. Oceans and climate change cannot be seen in isolation from what happens in the coastal zones. The combined impacts of climate change, namely, sea-level rise, increased sea surface temperature and intensified storm activity, and the adverse effects of ocean acidification caused by increased absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans, are among the biggest threats to the health of oceans and coastal areas.
Coral reef ecosystems are particularly susceptible to climate change and ocean acidification, and they may be the first marine ecosystems to collapse unless mitigation and adaptation efforts are significantly increased. We have numerous studies on the impacts of climate change on our coral reefs through temperature rise, and are only beginning to see how acidification will doubly impact them. These corals are global treasures that need safeguarding from cultural, social, economic and environmental factors. Deep reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are a global imperative.
Additionally, given the dangerous levels of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere and oceans, building the resilience of vulnerable marine ecosystems should feature prominently in a new action-oriented sustainable development paradigm. This is a new and emerging issue that requires immediate attention and concrete results. In particular, international support for capacity-building for developing nations to build marine ecosystems' resilience to ocean acidification and climate change is essential to safeguard marine ecosystems. We must also enhance global monitoring and sharing of information on the impacts of ocean acidification, as well as ensure that international organizations and RFMOs consider climate change and ocean acidification in their oceans management decisions, including through enhanced environmental impact assessments.
The final area of priority is the exploration and sustainable mining of seabed minerals. While fish and other living marine resources have been vital to Fiji's economic development, we believe that our efforts to explore the deep seabed and mine its mineral resources present great potential for economic expansion. With the many lessons learned from terrestrial mining activities and fisheries arrangements, we believe that a careful approach towards seabed mining will ensure that we do not sacrifice environmental conservation in the pursuit of economic rewards. The demands for rare earth metals for use in industries as ubiquitous as cell phones and computer chips are such that we should carefully consider, in a timely fashion, the sustainable exploitation of seabed minerals.
Although the status of seabed mining is largely at the exploratory stage, for Fiji and many Pacific SIDS, this activity presents a viable new era of opportunity for economic growth and development. In this respect, we are conscious of the need to avoid adverse impacts on the marine environment, preserve biodiversity, maintain the integrity of marine ecosystems and minimize the risk of long-term or irreversible effects of seabed mining.
All of these concerns underpin the strong advocacy by Fiji and the Pacific SIDS that greater political will must be directed towards the well-being of oceans and fisheries, and to the strengthening of the nexus between oceans and sustainable development. In order to move from rhetoric to action in saving the declining health of global oceans, the international community can no longer hide commitments deep within obscure paragraphs of distant instruments. We must address the root causes in a truly comprehensive, direct and honest manner.