THE OCEAN CONFERENCE & US
The boat was a necessary part of our lives in Savaii. We spent many days back and forth on those damned boats, smelling of diesel fumes and rocking to every inch of wind that caressed the waves. I hated the boat, but what I did love, was staring in the deep blue ocean, appreciating the horizon as I waited for the shape of my island to get bigger and bigger as the boat approached.
I never viewed the ocean as a separate entity – it always seemed, essentially a part of who we were, are and always will be. An island after all, is an island because of the ocean that surrounds it and laps on its fringes. The memories and thoughts of my children catching crabs by the sea, slapping the waves as they hit the shore and tasting the seaweed between their chubby little fingers, seem far removed from the discussions taking place at The Ocean Conference in the General Assembly Hall at the United Nations.
I have been fortunate to be part of Samoas delegation to the Ocean Conference, led by the Hon. Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Lupesoliai Malielegaoi and supported by Permanent Representative to the UN, Aliioaiga Feturi Elisaia and Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Peseta Noumea Simi.
When Tuilaepa stood on the second day of the conference and stated the unique situation of Samoa and our ties to the ocean, I felt a sense of pride, seated next to Samoan colleagues from MNRE and from New York Mission, witnessing yet another plea by our very own Prime Minister for consideration of our Small Island States and the dire situation resulting from mismanagement of ocean resources.
It is easy to discount such statements as merely lip service, but when you are speaking from an island perspective, it is an existential issue, one that touches the very core of who we are as Samoans, as Polynesians, as Pacific islanders. The ocean is us and any threats to that, is a threat to our way of life, to our existence and to the future knowledge and identity of our children.
As residents of the largest ocean on earth, Samoans, along with our neighbors stand to lose a lot if our oceans are not protected and managed well. The fact that we are small and under resourced continues to be a disadvantage for our people when it comes to ensuring that areas within our national jurisdictions are protected. This will continue to be a hot topic for years to come, but for now, the parameters of discussions need to consider the far-reaching impacts of depleted fish stocks, coral bleaching, illegal and unreported fishing activities and other threats both natural and man-made on our oceans.
Our language and culture is rooted in the environment, and oceans as part of that.
The Ocean Conference brought together thousands of people to share ideas, experiences and make concrete promises towards sustainably managing our oceans.
The call for action, although non-binding does provide a moral platform for countries to make progress towards their ocean targets. But this may not be enough, and a more concerted effort needs to be made by all in order to move the ocean agenda forward.
By: Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson