On October 16th 2020, the Samoa Ocean Strategy (SOS) was officially launched by the Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa in Apia. This represents an historical moment for Samoa as it commits to sustainably manage its entire ocean domain (120,000 km2) and formally protect 30% of this (36,000 km2).
The SOS is an overarching national ocean strategy , which Conservation International supported, which provides long-term goals and objectives toward sustainable ocean management grounded in traditional community knowledge and culture.
Here is our brief voyage to this momentous achievement.
Culturally, for Samoans and Pacific Islanders, the ocean has served to unite the vast sea of islands, being at the center of life and culture, regarded as a “blue highway” of connectivity. Known as the heart of Polynesia, Samoa built and navigated large double-hulled voyaging canoes to explore and settle a huge expanse of ocean from Samoa to Cook Islands, Tahiti, Aotearoa, Rapa Nui, and Hawaii.
This reverence and legacy continues with the launch of the SOS. The honorable Samoa Prime Minister of Samoa has committed the nation to a path of ocean management - "The Pacific Ocean has provided our island communities their cultural and historical identity and attachment since time immemorial". Adding at the SOS launch, “Samoa is a large ocean state. Ninety-eight percent of our domain is ocean. Our waters hold exceptional marine habitats, from seamounts to biodiverse coral reefs, mangroves, and oceanic basins. These all contribute significantly to both the economy and the identity of the Samoan people. The Samoa Ocean Strategy will ensure the effective management and conservation of these rich waters, not only for a resilient and prosperous Samoa now, but for generations to come."
Before progressing forward with our story, we must always look back at our genealogy to understand its roots and people. Conservation International (CI) has long recognised the importance of Samoa in the Pacific both culturally and politically. We have based our CI Pacific Regional program from Samoa for over 15 years. Over this time, the office and dedicated staff have built strong relationships and trust with the Samoa government as well as local and regional partners (e.g. with SPREP also be based in Samoa). This work placed CI Samoa as a trusted advisory NGO to the government on all environmental and conservation issues.
Sue Miller-Taei, was CI’s Pacific Program Executive Director, who set up our regional Marine program from Samoa and lead our national engagement in here for many years. Although no longer with us, she was integral, together with our Pacific team, in her work with the government to build the foundations to sustainably manage Samoa’s whole domain.
When the Samoa Prime Minister announced a voluntary commitment toward the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14 at the United Nations Oceans Conference in New York in June 2017, he then followed up with CI to assist with this. For the past two years the development of the SOS was led by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MNRE) with support from CI, working with NGOs, IGOs, private sectors and civil societies. Last week's announcement was where we delivered this SOS for our ocean, and for CI is a cherished testament to this long-term partnership.
As a testament to this close partnership, our CEO Sanjayan joined the stage (virtually) with the Samoa Prime Minister by sharing a recorded speech of congratulations and honour for these incredible efforts and reaffirming our commitment to Samoa, sharing his personal reflections of his time there when he visited in 2017 for the annual Pacific Island Leaders Forum.
The SOS was a long sail. After five national workshops and more than 10 different drafts, the SOS was finally approved and endorsed by the Samoan Cabinet on September 18th, 2020 recognizing the vital importance of this strategic document for the future of Samoa’s marine environment. The Strategy now serves as a guiding framework for several national (Community Integrated Management Plans), regional (Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape) and international (Convention on Biological Diversity) agreements. The SOS highlights Samoa’s leadership in managing its natural resources sustainably at regional and international level.
Sustainable development, conservation, traditional knowledge, collaboration, science, and food security are at the core of the SOS. Guided by these values, our Samoan people will work together toward a better future for the ocean and ourselves in the next 10 years - which represents the most critical and important decade for the survival of humanity. In this context, the SOS comes in a pivotal moment in our history as a lighthouse in these dark times.
The implementation of the SOS will start immediately through a historical collaboration between the Government of Samoa, CI and Waitt Foundation/Blue Prosperity Coalition which was made reality by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the three parties during the launch of the SOS last week. The first step will be the establishment of National Ocean Steering Committee (NOSC) which will overview and coordinate the implementation of the solutions and activities outlined in the SOS.
Finally, we would like to end this voyage in acknowledging Sue Miller-Taei - a relentless Pacific Ocean Warrior who spent much of her conservation career in Samoa working with the Government and stakeholders towards this momentous day. The Government of Samoa honoured Sue in dedicating the SOS to her loving memory. We also honour Sue as through the establishment of a fund and fellowship to sustain her ongoing mana in building capacity of young emerging female leaders in the Pacific –The Sue Taei Ocean Fellowship for Indigenous Women of the Pacific – is a fitting tribute to her legacy to create more change makers for implementing strategies and visions such as the SOS.