It’s worrying how the level of marine pollution is fast-growing every day. We can’t hide it anymore as the impact is clearly seen from the damages to our marine life. And of course, the most affected are the people living in small islands. These are people that depending on the ocean for survival.
The increasing pollution and dwindling seas life are some of the reasons why a group of Pacific Islanders sailed 11,000km to deliver the message of ocean protection to the World Parks Congress in Sydney. The long sail was organised by Tua Pittman, a resident of Rarotonga in the Cook Island. As a specialist in traditional navigation, Tua guided around 100 crew members on this voyage to Sydney.
According to Tua, the ocean means everything to the people of the Pacific Islands. From food to their way of life, they have depended on the oceans for thousands, if not millions of years. But with the growing pollution of the seas, their way of life is getting disrupted in a big way. The most unfortunate thing is that most of this pollution is coming from the outside world.
The use of the canoes in Sydney was symbolic. According to Tua, navigating canoes and the crew to the coast of Sydney for the World Park Congress was a symbolic gesture. They tried to show the leaders and politicians that for things to move, they must be ready to lead their people. That’s because they are the policymakers and implementers.
The 11,000km voyage began at the Cook Island on September 25 with a flotilla of four Vaka (canoes) built with a fibreglass hull and in traditional style. According to Tua, the idea was to show that the people from the islands have not changed their way of life. They still need the ocean to survive. The journey included several stopovers covering major islands. They passed through Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, and then Gold Coast before heading to Sydney.
The message that this group of sailors brought to the opening of the World Park Congress in Sydney. The aim of the message was to encourage marine conservation. They asked for the reduction of exploitation of marine life to improve the life of the islanders. The message lamented about the dwindling marine life because of overexploitation.
In part, the message said: “We no longer see the fish and other marine creatures in the size, diversity or plenty of the past.” The islanders also cited a lack of protection from the international fishing fleets. Most of these fleets ply their waters to exploit their resources. They also said that most of their natural marine heritage has also been damaged. In the message, they lamented their coral reefs, mangrove, and wetland disappearing because of pollution. That’s what the message said.
But this is not the first time that the issue of marine overexploitation has been raised. In the previous World Parks Congress, the same issue was raised, and little has been achieved. Back in 2003, the South Africa summit pass several resolutions on ocean conservation. One of the resolutions was to have 20-30% of no-take areas.
A team of world-leading marine scientists set out these resolutions. One of them is professor Callum Roberts from the University of York. But Professor Robert said this percentage was still small for better marine conservation. That’s why the Pacific Islanders were requesting for an increase in the no-take area from 30 to 33%. This would mean more conservation to marine life.
After haggling and negotiations among the World Parks Congress delegates made a resolution. One of them is increasing the ocean area to be put under protected areas by 2030. They also resolved that these areas should have strictly protected areas of at least 30%.
These measures would see a huge part of ocean life protected. But the application of these resolutions by the government is another thing altogether. Most of the governments have been reluctant to implement the previous resolutions. Even the few that have done it have implemented only a small percentage of the resolutions.
A good example is here in Australia. The federal government is claiming to protect 35% of the Aussies’ marine waters. But this is not true. Only 10% of this huge chunk of the Australian water is under protection. Note that most of the protected area is in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
So, it will be a huge challenge for Tua and his Pacific Islanders to enjoy the World Parks Congress resolutions. But their voyage was not in vain since they were able to grab global attention. We just hope that those in authority, leaders, and politicians, will put the needs of the people first.