Leaders from the 16 member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat will be in Rarotonga next week as the Forum holds its 43rd annual meeting, this year with the declared theme: Large Ocean States — The Pacific Challenge. The combined exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Forum members cover close to eight per cent of the planet’s surface and 10 per cent of its oceans.
During the Forum several member countries are expected to confirm significant contributions to the Pacific Oceanscape. These commitments are poised to further cement the role of Pacific Island nations as world leaders in innovative large-scale ocean management.
The Cook Islands Marine Park is a courageous initiative, reflecting the guardianship Cook Islanders have long felt for their ocean. The designation of more than 1 million square kilometers of ocean and island ecosystems in the Southern Cook Island will make this the world’s largest declared marine park and will be a major addition to the Pacific Oceanscape.
The Pacific Oceanscape is the world’s largest government-endorsed ocean initiative. It is a collaborative agreement between 16 Pacific Island nations, covering an area larger than the surface of the moon (40 million square kilometres). Endorsed by Forum leaders in 2010, the Oceanscape provides a framework for the integrated conservation management of the Pacific Ocean and Islands, and covers ocean health and security; governance; sustainable resource management; increased research and knowledge investment; and facilitating the partnerships and cooperation needed to support the conservation this vast ecosystem.
For Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna this role in the protection and development of the Pacific Ocean is no mean task. ‘It is a major contribution to the well-being of humanity,’ he says. ‘This is the Pacific Challenge we face. Do we take this challenge on with a name and identity that makes us small and not linked with the ocean in our own eyes and the eyes of the world? Or do we stand together with renewed pride and commitment as the world’s largest ocean-island states?’ Dr. Greg Stone, Conservation International’s Chief Scientist for Oceans and one of the architects of PIPA, the Pacific Oceanscape’s foundation site, believes the biggest challenge facing all leaders is finding ways to ensure a healthy and productive home for all.
"Our most important role should be that of custodians of the ocean, as such we must reach out to similar people elsewhere in the common task of protecting the seas for the general welfare of all living things,” said Stone.