By Sangeeta Mangubhai

For a small country with less than a million people, it is no small feat for Fiji to take on the responsibility of hosting the United Nations Ocean Conference (UNOC) in New York, 5-9 June, 2017, in partnership with the Government of Sweden.

The last six months has given me remarkable insights into the hard work and energy that goes into hosting an international meeting like UNOC. Everything has to be discussed and negotiated, and this is the one place where people really care about the fine print. There is a constant pushing and pulling about what commitments will be made, and countries have to decide what to showcase at UNOC to demonstrate they are talking actions to implement Sustainable Development Goal 14 (SDG14) on our Oceans.

But the thing that has been refreshing is the way the government has consulted with and actively engaged their non-government partners in the buildup to UNOC. There have been hours and hours of dialogue, meetings and workshops to prepare and give inputs. Yes we have not always agreed, and there has been lively debate – but that is what is needed if we are to truly tackle the challenges of wisely using and managing our ocean.

Together government and their non-government partners identified and drafted 17 voluntary commitments towards the protection and sustainable management of our ocean. These cover a wide diversity of topics from marine managed areas, including locally managed marine areas, integrated coastal management, coastal fisheries, gender and fisheries, grouper spawning aggregations, turtles, sharks, and whales.

Of noteworthy is the Government’s commitment to expand marine managed areas in Fiji to the scale needed, and connecting ridge-to-reef or integrated coastal management with marine spatial planning efforts including in the Fiji’s premier wilderness area, the Vatu-i-Ra Seascape.

But is it all enough? The answer is no – there is still a lot of work ahead of us, and making a statement on commitment is the easy part. The hard work is of course implementing actions effectively, and living up the partnerships that have formed around UNOC. Despite having moments of doubt, with today’s 16 commitment announcement for Fiji, around a diversity of ocean issues, I suddenly feel hopeful that we are moving forward in the right direction.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’ Fiji Country Program was proud to sign up to 9 national and regional voluntary commitments on:

  1. Expansion of Large Scale Marine Managed Areas in Fiji:
  2. Integrated Coastal Management to Preserve Ecosystems Services, Improve Climate Resilience and Sustain Livelihoods in Fiji:
  3. Delivering Improved Coastal Fisheries Management Services in Fiji:
  4. Promoting Gender Equality in Sustainable Fisheries Management and Development in Fiji:
  5. The Conservation and Management of Sea Turtles within Fijian Waters:
  6. Conservation and Management of all Species of Sharks and Rays and their Critical Habitats within Fijian Waters:
  7. Protection and Management of All Marine Mammal Species in Fiji:
  8. Protecting, conserving and restoring whale populations in the Pacific islands:
  9. Protecting spawning groupers: safeguarding food security and livelihoods for Fijians