HONOLULU (CN) — World Conservation Congress forums wrapped with a focus on ocean conservation over the holiday weekend, as the 1,300-member IUCN Assembly prepares to hammer out resolutions on conservation issues discussed over the last four days.
At the first of Sunday’s double-paneled session on ocean sustainability, astronaut and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration undersecretary Kathryn Sullivan, described the view of earth from space.
“You go around the planet in an hour and a half. You see this extraordinary expanse. You see the atmosphere edge on. You get a sunrise or a sunset every 45 minutes. And you see very quickly how really thin a veneer the atmosphere is, and you can see the layering in the atmosphere when the sun shines through. There’s an elegance to it, almost a fragility, despite being at the scale of the planet,” Sullivan said.
“I found the same thing to be true when looking at the oceans. When you go over the coastal zones, you see all the material coming down rivers that serve as tracers of how the ocean is circulating. As an oceanographer, every time I saw the great river plumes I couldn’t help but marvel at the filigree and the fine tracing, but also wonder what else is in that colored material. What is that doing to the living systems in the coastal oceans?” Sullivan asked.
Sylvia Earle, the first female chief scientist at NOAA, a decorated conservationist and Mission Blue founder, said astronauts looking back at earth helped with our understanding that everything is connected.
“One hundred years ago people thought the world was so big that there was nothing we could do to hurt nature. That we could clear-cut forests. But you’d really need to go back 10,000 years to see a pristine world untouched by humans,” Earle said.
Braulio de Souza Dias, executive director of the Convention on Biological Diversity, said, said that fish stocks will come back — like all living organisms — if given then chance. He also said the IUCN goal of preserving 10 percent of the ocean by 2020 isn’t enough.
“That’s 36.1 million square miles. People think that’s a lot. Ten percent is not enough! Come on! It’s a commitment,” Dias said. “The key to the commons is to decide Territorial User Rights or TURFs. In Chile, since they changed law in 1989 to give access to local fisheries and exclude others, the stocks have started to come back.”
At Sunday’s second ocean panel, titled “Governments and Economy,” moderator and founder of Island Water Aulani Wilhelm asked former three-term president of Kiribati Anote Tong what the view is like from six meters above sea level. Tong, whose atoll nation is predicted to be underwater in 50 years, corrected Wilhelm.
“Two (meters),” he said. “During high tides we hardly clear the waves. We love the ocean; we’ve lived with it all our lives. Now it is the thing that is going to threaten our survival. So we put together Pacific Rising program to build up islands so they have climate resistance.”
He added, “We’re going to lose areas. We don’t have material. We’re on the top of mountains. Material is thousands of feet away. Maybe we dredge out lagoons. Choices have to be made.”
Tong said Kiribati had also closed 400,000 square kilometers around the central Pacific island republic to outside fishing in an effort to protect fish stocks — but to no avail.
“Our fishing partners told us it would not make a difference, that they would just wait around the edges for the fish to come out,” Tong said.
“We did not realize how relevant we are. We were told we are small. But now we are coming to terms with the fact that we are huge island states. With our resources we will become a Middle Eastern country. We are only getting 10 percent of the value of fish this side of the wharf. Maybe we will borrow money to process fish on this side. It would relieve the pressure on fishing. We would not have to dig so deep. So we need your help with this partnership,” Tong said.
Catherine Novelli, undersecretary for economic growth, energy, and the environment at the U.S. Department of State — which will hold the Our Ocean Conference in Washington beginning Sept. 15 — spoke about the need for environmental sustainability and economic sustainability to go hand in hand.
“Three billon people get their main source of protein from the sea. We have to think about them. How do we stop over-fishing?” Novelli said. She advocated for an economic disincentive like the Port State Measures Agreement, which would deny port access to illegal fishing vessels.
Humberto Delgado Rosa, the European Commission’s climate action chief, said governments need to do more than reduce harmful impacts.
“We should have industries that help,” Rosa said. “People thought you have to be either pro-fish of pro-fisherman. No. You have to be pro-fish if you are pro-fisherman.”
Nainoa Thompson, of voyaging canoe Hokulea fame, reflected on ancient voyaging technology in his closing speech.
“I’m not a scientist or even a professional conservationist. I’m just a sailor. I’m not even a map navigator,” Thompson said. “But maybe what I can do is to bring in a navigator, a master, my teacher from the tiny island of Sataoa in the Western Carolines of Micronesia.
“His soil is less than two meters. His island is a mile long and a half a mile wide and to me he’s everything. He’s a scientist, he’s a meteorologist, he’s an astronomer, he’s an oceanographer, he’s a voyager. He is a conservationist, because on his island they sustain everything. Nothing’s brought in. They deal with things like tsunamis and hurricanes that run the island over. And they survive.”
Bottom photo of Nainoa Thompson
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