Rarotonga, Cook Islands —
In the final day of the 43rd Pacific Island Forum, Kiribati President His Excellency Anote Tong welcomed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s unprecedented commitment, on behalf of the United States, to ocean conservation in the Pacific Region. Deepening its relationship between Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA)
and the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument
(PRIMNM), a huge area of the Pacific Ocean managed by the United States, the stretch of ocean has been dubbed the Phoenix Ocean Arc.
“The Phoenix Ocean Arc announcement is a game changer for the oceans,” said Conservation International’s Pacific Marine Director Sue Taei. “It will provide the basis for co-operation between one of the world’s largest economies and one of the smallest economies, which meet on the ocean as equals in their commitment and stewardship. They are both large ocean states working together forging a critical way forward to conserve the world’s blue economy.”
“It will deliver both individual and collective aspirations for conservation and will focus on both natural and cultural heritage conservation,” said Tong, who is also a board member with Conservation International. “The protection of the islands and ocean of the Phoenix Ocean Arc is a common challenge and this agreement reflects a shared vision, a compelling impetus for co-operation that crosses huge tracks of ocean, politics and heritage.”
Secretary Clinton told the gathering at the forum, “our countries are bound by shared interest, and more importantly, shared values, a shared history, and shared goals for our future. So the United States is already invested in the Pacific. Indeed, we are increasing our investments and we will be here with you for the long haul.”
Secretary Clinton also voiced support by the U.S. for the Pacific Oceanscape initiative envisioned by President Tong and endorsed by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders in 2010, and welcomed opportunities to identify ways of protecting and managing PRIMNM and PIPA, including both the Phoenix and Line Islands of Kiribati.
Co-operation between USA and Kiribati is long standing with the Treaty of Friendship (1979), a Shipriders agreement (2008) and the collaboration on protected areas under a sister-site agreement between PIPA and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. The archipelago spans eight islands governed by Kiribati and two by the U.S. (Howland and Baker).
In addition to sharing a remote archipelago, both sites:
- Are exceptionally large, remote marine protected areas, managed to protect species of concern and their habitats, entire ecosystems, including both shallow and deep water habitats, and they include vast geographic areas of the central Pacific Ocean.
- Have globally important terrestrial island habitat and species, including threatened seabird and turtle populations, and share similar issues and problems with respect to invasive species management.
- Share a mandate for strong protection and conservation of the extraordinary, and still nearly pristine marine environments, dominated by large predatory fish such as sharks.
- Are largely unaffected by the threats typically facing coral reef systems across the globe such as land-based sources of pollution, but are challenged by overwhelming global threats like climate change.
- Are highly regulated sites where access is limited, and surveillance and enforcement is a challenge.
- Have significant management costs and challenges, due to the remote nature and size of the sites.
- Serve as global sentinel research sites, providing early warning and a comparative baseline to develop an better understanding of how natural systems react to changing climatic conditions and external influences, because compounding factors from human disturbance and habitation are largely absent.
- Have a shared and rich history of American and Micronesian heritage.
Regarding the U.S Asia Pacific strategic engagement initiative launched in July, Secretary Clinton also noted the U.S plans for programs that total than $32 million which will address priorities that the Pacific Island Nations have identified. Secretary Clinton noted that “one of these is sustainable economic development that protects biodiversity.”
The Phoenix Ocean Arc is the first of the Pacific Oceanscape’s ocean arcs, designed to protect, large ocean areas, inclusive of island, coastal, open ocean, and deep-sea habitats. Marine and terrestrial protected areas remain the single most commonsense tool and biological insurance policy for Pacific Islands people to build resilience and capacity to environmental and climate change. The Pacific Ocean Arc concept fosters protected area design and investment that focuses on the archipelagic nature of the central Pacific and that includes the full range of approaches to protected areas, from village-based approaches to international collaboration for open ocean protection.
At this year’s Pacific Islands Leaders Forum, the governments of New Caledonia and the Cook Islands both announced major contributions to the Pacific Oceanscape, adding to those made previously by Kiribati and Tokelau.
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