The leaders of Kiribati, Cook Islands and Palau have called on the world to follow their lead in ocean protection, after sailing into Sydney Harbour aboard traditional voyaging canoes that have travelled more than 6,000 nautical miles from the Pacific Islands.
The three leaders are taking significant steps to protect the natural environments of the Pacific, with each committing to establishing some of the world’s largest marine protected areas.
The President of Kiribati, His Excellency Anote Tong, has established the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which covers 408,250 square kilometres and is the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage site in the world.
The Prime Minister of Cook Islands, Hon. Henry Puna, is establishing ‘Marae Moana’, a marine park covering 1.1 million square kilometres.
The President of Palau, His Excellency Tommy Remengesau, has committed to protecting 80% of the nation’s exclusive economic zone – approximately 500,000 square kilometres.
“The arrival of the voyage in Sydney is a historic occasion, for it reflects our shared values as voyagers and profound respect for our ocean. We want the ties that bind our ocean spirit to be a leading example for the rest of the world to bind their resources together in support of strengthened protected areas” said Prime Minister Puna.
The collective commitments by the three leaders are among the most significant protected area commitments in the world. These protected areas will be a haven for biodiversity that is threatened by overfishing, and will increase food security for the small and remote island communities that rely on the oceans for their food supply – increasingly so as rising sea levels inundate food gardens on land.
“In a climate-challenged planet, the world needs big blue spaces like the Pacific Islands region” said IUCN Regional Director for Oceania, Mr Taholo Kami.
The arrival of the leaders comes on the opening day of the IUCN World Parks Congress 2014 – the landmark global forum on protected areas, held once every ten years. The Congress brings together more than 5,000 delegates from over 160 countries.
The leaders sailed into Sydney on the final leg of the Mua Voyage – a voyage of more than 6,000 nautical miles, with the four 22-metre long double-hulled canoes having sailed from Cook Islands, Samoa, Fiji and New Zealand. In total, the crews aboard the canoes represented seven Pacific Island countries and territories.
“The Mua Voyage conveys a message from the Pacific Islands to the world about people, oceans and climate change. It seeks partnerships and commitments to help protect the great ocean and sustain the Pacific Islands for future generations, and for the health of the planet. The presence of the three Pacific Island leaders provided official backing to the voyage’s messages” added Mr Kami.
The voyage arrived at the Australian National Maritime Museum and received an official welcome from traditional owners and the Government of New South Wales.
Other dignitaries aboard the canoes included Vanuatu Minister of Lands and Natural Resources, Hon. Ralph Regenvanu, and New Zealand’s Ambassador for Pacific Economic Development, Hon. Shane Jones.
The Mua Voyage was a joint initiative between IUCN Oceania and the voyaging societies of Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, Samoa and Tonga. The Director General of IUCN, Ms Julia Marton-Lefèvre, was also aboard the canoes as they arrived into Sydney.
The Mua Voyage partnership also includes the Secretariat for the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), the Okeanos Foundation, the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), WWF, and the University of the South Pacific (USP). This was also made possible by generous grants from the Biodiversity and Protected Areas Management (BIOPAMA) Programme and the IUCN Energy Programme, which is funded by the Governments of Austria, Italy and Luxembourg and the European Union.