Thursday, September 9, 2010
At the opening plenary to the conference yesterday morning, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was expected to join the President of the Republic of Kiribati, Anote Tong, on a call for action on one of the most significant threats to our ocean, climate change. Well, Schwarzenegger couldn’t make it at the last minute, but President Tong delivered a strong and passionate statement for a united action on protecting the ocean, asking developing countries to join Pacific Island countries in their commitment. President Tong was the key driving force behind the designation of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), the largest MPA in the world and now a World Heritage Site, and said that the designation of PIPA “goes to the heart of the climate change debate,” a threat that puts his country, the largest atoll nation in the world, at particular risk to seal level rise and the increase in frequency and intensity of storms. For this country of low-lying atolls, the threats are real and imminent, and require swift regional solutions and effective collaborations with other Pacific rim countries—because for Kiribati, as President Tong reminded us, “the alternative is simply not acceptable.”
Later in the afternoon President Tong gave a special introduction and participated in the panel of one of the most exciting sessions of the day, highlighting the Pacific 2020 challenge. Meg Caldwell of the Center for Ocean Solutions moderated a panel with speakers and government leaders from Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati and the United States, including Colin Philps, President of the Fiji Voyaging Society who recently completed a 7,000 nautical mile journey in the Pacific in a traditional canoe to raise awareness of the threats the ocean faces.
Tons of concurrent sessions throughout the day made it hard to choose which to attend… I sat with great interest on a session on “Measuring the ocean economy” in which one of the speakers, an economist from San Francisco State University, made a passionate plea for someone to organize a forum between ecologists and economists to further our nascent understanding of how to value habitats and the ecosystem services they provide… (hmmm ripe ground for SeaWeb?). Lastly, a Marine Debris session enlighted us on recent effort from local, state and federal government to find solutions for the problem of outrageous quantities of plastics and other debris we produce and consume. It was heartening that our great city of San Francisco is leading the charge on the front of local governments, and that California is also leading the nation by example with source-reduction legislation and infrastructure improvements.
Yesterday the California and World Ocean international conference kicked off, providing about 1,000 participants from government, academia and industry the opportunity to share ideas and stimulate creative approaches to address the ecological, environmental and economic challenges that the global ocean faces. Topics such as climate change impacts, marine spatial planning, ocean economics, marine protected areas, and renewable offshore energy are all featured.