– Our Ocean conference is first regional face to face gathering since March 2020

Regional organizations, leaders, and heads of delegations have commended Palau’s hosting of the 7th Our Ocean Conference as a way of taking the ‘fear factor’ out of the pandemic.

At yesterday’s Pacific Blue Economy Roundtable hosted by the President of Palau, the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, and the Nippon Foundation, the focus on solutions and opportunities presented by the shared ocean resource was acknowledged by countries and regional partners alike.

“I think this is the first time that we have met as a Forum family for over two years now. And I congratulate you for your courage in going ahead with this conference,” the Pacific Islands Forum Secretary-General, Henry Puna told the meeting.

“We’re all familiar with the devastating impacts of COVID-19. And you’ve all spoken about it. But I think there’s something that we must, we need to do…we need to take the fear factor out of the pandemic.”

Urging vaccinations and booster protection, the Forum SG called for getting “back to normal by getting vaccinated, adding “we cannot employ normal approaches to this abnormal situation. But collectively, we need new solutions. And we need it now.”

While the Forum Secretary-General is at the center of talks aimed at resolving the planned exit of the Micronesia nations from the Forum, there was no sign of that disagreement as the President and Forum SG, who is also the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, greeted each other before the meeting began– the focus all on the Our Ocean Conference and agenda for the Blue Pacific continent.

In her remarks, the Forum Fisheries Agency Director-General Dr. Manu Tupou-Roosen welcomed the presence of the Honourable Hu’akavameiliku Sovaleni, the Prime Minister of Tonga as she congratulated President Whipps Jr for “a significant moment that we are physically present…we warmly congratulate you in being bold enough. And being able to successfully coalesce us physically around this table..for our first regional meeting in our Pacific home.”

“This is a testament that we are rising above the challenges of the COVID 19 pandemic, not just surviving, but also thriving. And illustrating the resilience, the innovation, and adaptation that is so typical of our Pacific peoples,” the FFA DG said.

She noted the key sectors that have been hit by this pandemic in the Pacific are tourism and fisheries, highlighted by the President in his welcome remarks as a key regional resources.

“So there has been work to assess, for example, how we can increase the contribution of tuna to our domestic markets develop and implement COVID-19 fisheries protocols to ensure our fish workers on vessels are safe. Looking at the impacts of COVID on women in the tuna fishery sector, recognizing that over 70% of those working in processing plants are women. And also looking at specific value-adding opportunities in the supply chain and their applicability to FFA members and how we can harness those opportunities.”

She also noted the emphasis from the President and many around the table, on the importance of regional cooperation.

“It is our recipe for success in our region,” Dr. Tupou-Roosen told the roundtable.

She echoed the point made by President Whipps in his welcome remarks on the need to balance “protection and production in our fishery sector.”

“Given how reliant our people are on oceans resources the last point to make is the first point the honorable President made in terms of why we do what we do and why we must work together–for our people” she ended.

The former Ambassador of New Zealand to Palau was on hand, now as the representative of the SPC.

SPC is celebrating its 75th year in 2022, and is also marking a long history of implementing climate action and development projects across every SDG with the countries and partners in this room, she said.

The Pacific Community continues to provide “accurate and decision-ready science, knowledge, and data to ensure Pacific leaders you can make your own informed decisions…We’re listening to ensure we can deliver the science data and knowledge you need to ensure you are able to explore every option to harness all of your assets and ensure the future of our people and our Blue Pacific continent,” the SPC representative said.

Border closure impacts, COVID19 recovery, and supply chain disruptions were amongst the long list of discussion points raised by the heads of delegations at the roundtable. Vaccination rates, the ‘new normal’ and challenges of climate change, debt relief, and resilience for communities were also part of the roundtable event. More arrivals were expected Monday ahead of the Our Ocean Conference, this Wednesday and Thursday. – . Reklai

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