14 Nov 2012
And now for some good news...the Pacific Oceanscape
The global score for the oceans is 60, and 100 is
sustainable. No one likes that
math, but it’s a baseline for measuring ocean health. And sometimes, there’s good news—news that’s likely to raise
the world’s scores.
During the 43rd Pacific Islands Forum in the Cook Islands in late August, Cook Islands announced the creation of a 425,000 square mile marine park. On the second day, New Caledonia announced the protection of 541,000 million squares in a marine protected area.
The protection of almost one million more square miles of protected water in the Pacific Ocean, the largest ocean on the planet, falls in the category of very good news. The fifteen Pacific Island nations—ranging from the sizable landmass of Australia to smaller islands like Fiji, Samoa, Kiribati and Tonga—are embracing their role as the collective managers of what they call the “Pacific Oceanscape.”
The Pacific Oceanscape came into being in 2009. Addressing the decline in ocean health faced by their people, Kiribati President Anote Tong called on other Pacific Islands leaders to collaborate on managing their shared waters. “The time has come for our region to join together and face common threats to the ocean, a resource that moves between our communities and that we share like the atmosphere we breathe,” he wrote. He proposed that the nearly 15.4 million square mile chunk of ocean these countries share—close to 8% of the earth’s surface--be called the “Pacific Oceanscape.”
Now, one by one, the Pacific Island nations are innovating large-scale
ocean management. By leading the
way to protect the vital marine resources in their region, these countries are
helping ocean health worldwide. The
Ocean Health Index measures many of these critical areas of human marine use,
starting with the goal of Food Provision (with its sub-goal of Wild-Caught
Fisheries), and Artisanal Fishing, defined as fishing conducted on a small and
local scale. The Pacific
Ocean hosts the world’s largest remaining stocks of tuna, providing
approximately a third of the world’s catches of tuna and related species. The region is a critical breeding
ground for many species of tuna that migrate as far as the west coast of the
The island nations of the Pacific Oceanscape have direct and tangible experience of the global decline in ocean health—for them, declining fisheries, pollution and ocean acidification, and rising sea levels, are direct threats to the lives and livelihoods of their people. (To hear Anote Tong, the President of the Republic of Kiribati, talk about the impact of climate change on his island nation of 1.3 square miles, click here.)
Speaking at the forum, National Geographic Explorer-in-residence and oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, called these collaborative agreements “a source of inspiration to the world.” The recent protective measures of the Pacific Oceanscape Initiative will likely raise not only the country scores of the Pacific Islands, but also the world scores, in a range of goals that includes Biodiversity, Coastal Protection, Sense of Place, Carbon Storage, Natural Products and Tourism. In other words, the human benefits will be widespread.