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Fiji Leaders Honored with Global Ocean Conservation Award

WASHINGTON, DC, June 8, 2006 (ENS) - To celebrate World Ocean Day, conservation organizations have bestowed the second annual Global Ocean Conservation Award upon two Fijian leaders for their work protecting the island nation’s unique marine biodiversity. World Ocean Day falls on June 8 each year.

Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase and Paramount Chief Tui Macuata Ratu Aisea Katonivere of Fiji’s Macuata province on the island of Vanua Levu, were honored for their partnership and commitment to ensuring that at least 30 percent of Fiji’s inshore and offshore marine areas will be effectively managed and financed within a comprehensive, ecologically representative network of marine protected areas by the year 2020.

Qarase

Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase (Photo courtesy Government of New Zealand)
“The Fijian government, our local communities and non-governmental organizations all work together in this stupendous partnership,” Qarase said. “Our commitment is to develop our network of marine protected areas into a mainstay for national incomes, coastal livelihoods and traditional cultures, so that our waters can continue to be a source of beauty and biodiversity as much as sustenance and income for all future generations.”

Tui Macuata, a newly elected senator in Fiji's Great Council of Chiefs traveled to New York to accept the award at a ceremony on Wednesday.

“In January 2005, Fiji made history with its marine protected area pledge of 30 percent," said Dr. Sylvia Earle, executive director of Conservation International’s Global Marine Division. "Their example, including the fine collaboration of government with community, has helped to spark a domino effect of protected areas for some of the world’s most precious marine ecosystems,” she said.

Inspired by Fiji’s pledge, other Pacific Island nations have undertaken to protect 30 percent of near-shore marine resources and 20 percent of terrestrial resources on their islands by 2020. They include Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.

Inspired by this movement, known as the Micronesia Challenge, the Caribbean island nation of Grenada has pledged to put 25 percent of its near-shore marine resources under effective conservation by 2020.

In addition to his traditional role as chief, and his new role as senator, Tui Macuata is responsible for governmental administration in his province of 110,000 people, which is home to the Great Sea Reef, the third largest barrier reef in the world.

Tui Macuata has persuaded four other chiefs to join him in establishing the 59 square kilometer Macuata Marine Protected Area Network and management plan.

Fiji

One-third of Fiji's ocean waters will be protected as marine reserves. (Photo courtesy Government of Fiji)
He is now planning a campaign within the Great Council of Chiefs. “I am proud to be a conservation convert,” Tui Macuata said. “I am going to encourage the Great Council to renew their commitment to marine conservation, because our only chance for the future is through conservation.”

Carl Gustaf Lundin, Head of IUCN's Global Marine Programme, said, "Bold commitments like this are required to tackle the growing problems facing our oceans. All nations need to ramp up the protection of the marine environment, both within their national waters but also in areas beyond national jurisdiction, the high seas."

“Fiji is now a world leader in this crucial area of marine conservation,” said President Elliott Norse of Marine Conservation Biology Institute. “Long after the last corals and big fishes are gone from the seas of nations that didn't protect them, future generations will go to Fiji and thank those conservation pragmatists who decided to protect 30 percent of their waters.”

The Global Ocean Conservation Award is given each World Ocean Day, June 8, in recognition of an individual or individuals who have made outstanding contributions to global marine conservation, catalyzing prominent changes in ocean governance, industrial practices, public perception or scientific knowledge. The first winner in 2005 was Carlos Manuel Rodriguez, the environment minister of Costa Rica.

“This award recognizes Fiji’s leadership in marine conservation,” said Dr. Simon Cripps, director of WWF’s Global Marine Programme. “The international donor community must now join with Pacific governments and people to protect their globally significant marine areas that are essential to the health and well-being of Pacific people, their cultures and their economies.”

Overfishing is one of the major threats to the sustainable supply of food from the marine environment, according to a new fact sheet from the IUCN-World Conservation Union, "Ocean Blues."

Seafood provides almost 20 percent of the world’s total animal protein intake, with this figure much greater in many coastal communities, the IUCN says, adding that total marine production peaked in 2000 at 87 million metric tons and has declined since. Fifteen out of seventeen of the world’s largest fisheries are so heavily exploited that reproduction cycles cannot guarantee continued catches.

In addition to pollution, invasions by aquatic alien species are among the most severe threats facing marine ecosystems, according to the IUCN, which warns that more than 7,000 species are in transit every day in ships’ ballast water, and more than 10,000 million metric tons of ballast water are transported around the world every year.

The ocean not only significantly regulates the planet’s climate, but is susceptible to any changes in climate. Climate change is an overarching condition to which life on Earth must adapt, or perish. Some changes are already seen to dramatically alter our environment and ecosystems.

The Gulf Stream flow has declined 30 percent in the last half century, with the rate of decline accelerating in the past five years, the IUCN states.

Sea levels are rising quickly - Alaskan glaciers are melting more rapidly than previously thought, contributing more to sea level rise than any other glacial region on the planet, the IUCN says. Sea level rise already threatens the existence of low-lying island nations such as the Maldives, and - in combination with extended above average sea surface temperatures - is responsible for massive coral loss, especially in the central Indian Ocean.



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