Statement on the Ocean to Pope Francis by Prime Minister Henry Puna of Cook Islands on behalf of the Pacific Region
Pacific Island Leaders’ – Vatican Audience
Saturday, 11 November 2017
Vatican, Italy
Holy Father,
Our ocean and its resources are fundamental to and inter-twined in the lives of we - the Pacific peoples.  Our ancestors have a magnificent history of voyaging through knowledge of the stars and the currents of our vast Ocean.  We are now reviving these skills and our island peoples are making similar journeys across the pacific and around the world - creating awareness of the responsible stewardship required of this important natural asset - for our peoples, our place and our planet.  
 Our ocean is our livelihood.  That demands great responsibility by our governments and by us as elected Pacific leaders - to ensure that we are both prudent and accountable in our management and stewardship of the ocean.   However, we share our ocean with many others who are not as reliant on the ocean and its resources.  Consequently, they pollute it, they use it as a dumping zone, they have tested nuclear weapons above it  and store nuclear waste in it (with devastating effects on some of our nations and on the ocean itself), and they either fish illegally or overfish our fish stocks.   
In recognising the centrality of the Ocean to our lives and the sustainability of our communities, Pacific Leaders endorsed the Blue Pacific as the narrative of our identity, our collective stewardship of the ocean, and the sustainable development, management and conservation of it and its resources.  
We are very aware of the vital role played by the world’s oceans in driving the global climate system and in particular in regulating temperature and that it serves as the largest carbon sink. We are also alarmed that due to unsustainable carbon emissions the ocean and its delicate ecosystems are being placed under considerable stress.
Today, the challenges that we and our Ocean face are severe; climate change has raised sea surface temperatures, underwater currents and ocean acidification.  It has generated the redistribution of fisheries, both oceanic and coastal, which impacts on the livelihoods and food security of our people.  
We know that the Pacific Ocean is rich in resources because we provide 56% of global production of tuna; this represents 2.7 million tons each year. But while we place food protein on the table of many Europeans, we have to contend with illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing by distant water fishing nations exploiting our fisheries resources.   We also know that we have rich deep sea mineral resources and marine genetic resources that are important for us to meet our sustainable development aspirations.  
We have to make tough decisions and make tough choices in exploring opportunities for our own economies and sustainable growth – while always being mindful of and recognising the impact and consequences on the ocean and the bounty that it provides.  Our region needs to capitalise on the vast marine protected areas that we have established, for example Marae Moana Ocean Sanctuary of the Cook Islands which is over 1,976 thousand square kilometres; this is over 6 times the land area of Italy.
Laudato Si advocates, and quite rightly so, the importance of sound and robust ocean governance to address these contemporary challenges. Recognising international and regional conventions that exist, the pressing issue is promoting integrated governance of our ocean and marine resources, to serve not only the Pacific but the Planet at large. 
At its heart, Pacific Leaders recognise the opportunity of the Blue Pacific identity to reinforce the potential of our collective stewardship and governance of the Pacific Ocean and all of its resources, ensuring its health and integrity for now and future generations of Pacific people, and for the perpetuity and prosperity of our planet.
I invite the Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Hon Charlot Salwai Tabimasmas to speak to the issue of equality and human rights.
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