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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 itโ€™s a baseline for measuring ocean health.  And sometimes, thereโ€™s good newsโ€”news thatโ€™s likely to raise the worldโ€™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 nationsโ€”ranging from the sizable landmass of Australia to smaller islands like Fiji, Samoa, Kiribati and Tongaโ€”are embracing their role as the collective managers of what they call the โ€œPacific Oceanscape.โ€   

View of the southwest Pacific Ocean from New Caledonia.

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.  โ€œThe 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,โ€ he wrote.  He proposed that the nearly 15.4 million square mile chunk of ocean these countries shareโ€”close to 8% of the earthโ€™s surface--be called the โ€œPacific Oceanscape.โ€ 

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 worldโ€™s largest remaining stocks of tuna, providing approximately a third of the worldโ€™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 United States.

The island nations of the Pacific Oceanscape have direct and tangible experience of the global decline in ocean healthโ€”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.)  

The Honourable Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati.

Speaking at the forum, National Geographic Explorer-in-residence and oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle, called these collaborative agreements โ€œa source of inspiration to the world.โ€ 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.