Data to Action - Durable partnerships benefit Pacific Island countries

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L - R  Kosi Latu SPREP, Senator Brett Mason, Fata Sunny Seuseu, Uaneta Toorua

2 September 2014, Apia, Samoa - "Ocean Journey: From data to action" an event at the Third International Conference on Small Islands Developing States highlighted the close partnership between the Government of Australia and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

Facilitated by the Deputy Director-General of SPREP, Mr. Kosi Latu, the event brought together Australian Senator Brett Mason with heads of Met services from Samoa and Kiribati.

"The Australian government have supported SPREP right from the beginning and remain to be one of SPREP's major partners in many of our programs," said Mr. Latu.

"Weather and climate data and information services are key to the security, economic growth and health of Small Islands Developing States."

Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Senator Brett Mason, gave the keynote address highlighting the fact that the world sees Australia as the smallest continent, but that they see themselves as the biggest island, with ocean borders, and share a deep and abiding love of the ocean with Pacific nations.

"The Pacific Ocean has contributed billions to the tourism industry in the area. It has the largest economic exclusion zones (EEZ's) in the world and has earned half a billion dollars in revenue from the fishing industry and creating more than 15,000 jobs in that industry," said Senator Mason.  "The problem of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is estimated to be as much as 30% of the industry," he says.

"Through programs like the Climate and Ocean Support Program in the Pacific (COSPPac), Australia has contributed $32 million over four years, to build capacity and to disseminate climate data and information to our neighbouring Pacific Island countries," the Senator said.

Fata Sunny Seuseu, from Samoa's Meteorology Division, reiterated the theme of this year's UN SIDS conference, genuine and durable partnerships.

"We celebrate the partnership between Australia and Samoa, and between Australia and the region," said Fata.

"Australia has helped benefit communities and countries through ocean data for climate prediction, including drought and wet weather events."

He used the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to demonstrate that understanding this is the basis of climate predictions in the Pacific.

"As we become more used to using the data and information the benefits to Pacific Islands countries (PIC's) increases," he said. In the 1997-1998 ENSO event costs to Papua New Guinea in damage was 80 million USD, and to Fiji 60 million USD.

Fata showed how the Afulilo Dam supplies 30% of Samoa's electricity power needs. In order for Samoa to meet its renewable sustainable electricity needs, the dam is monitored by the Electric Power Corporation, the Meteorology Division and the Samoa Water Authority using climate prediction and water level monitoring to ensure Samoa's power needs are met.

"Climate data and seasonal outlooks also assist in disease preparedness, such as malaria or dengue fever outbreaks, as well as for natural disaster preparedness," said Fata.

One of the positives of the partnership between COSPPac and National Meteorology Services is that COSPPac listens to and responds the needs of the Pacific Island Countries, he said.

Mr.Ueneta Toorua, from the Kiribati Meteorology Service, highlighted how the COSPPac online tools have benefitted the region, giving important and real time information that helps the shipping, fishing, and tourism industries to name a few.

"COSPPac, has given Pacific Island Countries 20 years of Pacific Ocean monitoring, as well as sea level monitoring for coastal development," said Mr. Toorua.

"Sea level monitoring for disaster preparedness on a real-time display is valuable during extreme weather events. And tide predictions can help Pacific Island Countries predict king tides which enables them to advise communities to prepare for these events," he said.

The Ocean Portal allows Pacific Island Countries to monitor sea surface temperatures, warns of bleaching of reefs, and wave height forecast.

Training and capacity development in climate and oceans, regionally and nationally, through COSPPac and partners such as SPREP, Secretariat of Pacific Communities (SPC) and SOPAC work together to maximise benefits.

The side event was well attended at the UN SIDS venue, with the Senator expressing his gratitude to the Samoan people for opening their home and their hearts to the UN SIDS delegates.

Please find below the full speech:

Senator Brett Mason, Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs
Tuesday, 2 September 2014
Let me start by thanking the government and the people of Samoa for their warm Pacific hospitality and congratulate them on doing such a fantastic job hosting this conference. It is never easy when about 3,000 strangers turn up at your doorstep and want to stay with you for a few days, be fed, be entertained, and then leave with smiles on their faces. But you have opened your homes and your heart to us, and we thank you for that. Samoa might be a small country but there is nothing small about its heart.
Throughout human history, the ocean has represented mystery – and a challenge.
How deep does it reach, how far does it go, what mysterious creatures dwell in its depths, what lies beyond the horizon?
These were amongst the very first questions that our human ancestors asked themselves and tried to answer.
We know that they have been crossing the open sea, often out of sight of land and into the unknown, as early as 60,000 years ago.
Think about it – before we, as a human race, invented writing and the wheel, before we started farming and domesticating animals, before we even painted rock walls, or started to make music, we sailed. It is one of the very first things we know our ancestors did.
And we have been sailing ever since – exploring the oceans and learning about them.
Being here in Samoa, we cannot but think of the great sea voyages of the first Pacific islanders. The settlement of the Pacific islands, across the largest ocean expanse on Earth, without the aid of modern technology, remains one of the great feats of exploration and human achievement.
Today, in our age of science, we have answered many of the questions that our ancestors first asked. Yet in many ways, the more we know about the oceans, the more we stand in awe of them. And we realise that as our capacity to exploit the oceans grows, so must our knowledge if we are to bequeath the same gift of the ocean to our children as has been bequeathed to us.
So let me welcome you to today's event, "An Ocean Journey: from Data to Action."
It is a great pleasure to be in Samoa for the UN SIDS conference.
It brings together partners big and small from around the globe.
Small island developing states like our host Samoa, and small continent developed states like Australia.
Indeed, while most of the world sees Australia as the world's smallest continent, we Australians have always thought of our country as the world's biggest island, with the vast majority of us clinging to the shore. As our national anthem says, "our land is girth by sea" – just like any of the island states in the world every inch of our border is lapped by the waves of oceans.
And while of course we are not necessarily faced with the same challenges as the small island developing states, we share with them a deep and abiding love of the ocean, awe and respect for its power – but also for its fragility, and appreciation of its gifts and bounties.
We are here today to talk about some of the latest thinking and research around oceans - trying to help us understand weather, forecasting, meteorological and resource management questions. We need to understand our oceans in order to manage them – and we need to manage in order to survive and prosper.
No other region of the world is so intimately linked to the ocean and as dependant on it as the Pacific. Transport, fisheries, tourism – they are all the lifeblood of the Pacific island nations – and they all depend and rely on a healthy ocean.
Consider tourism.
Tourism contributes more than 20 per cent of GDP to Cook Islands, Palau, Samoa and Vanuatu. And 14 per cent to Fiji.
For 2014 and 2015, the South Pacific Tourism Organisations estimates that the sector contributed some $US2.8 billion to the broader islands region. It is driven by the global attraction to our pristine natural environments and diverse cultures.
Or fishing.
The Pacific region is home to some of the largest Exclusive Economic Zones in the world. Returns from offshore fisheries are now more than $500 million a year. Tuna fisheries alone account for more than 15,000 formal jobs across the region. But this bounty remains threatened by overfishing and illegal fishing. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing can account for up to 30 per cent of the total catch.
Australia supports the sustainable use and conservation of our oceans. That's why, in our new aid policy, released recently by Australia's Foreign Minister, we made fisheries – together with agriculture and water - one of our six core priorities.
And that's why we are strengthening our long-term assistance to Pacific fisheries bodies, our fisheries surveillance assistance through the Pacific Patrol Boat Program, and our scientific work to better understand Pacific fish stocks and environment.
Before I indeed hand over to our eminent scientists, let me briefly mention a few of the things we're currently working on with our partners in support of better ocean conservation and management:
• This year, we have commenced a $5 million Australian Government Partnership to support the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape.
• We have just announced a four-year $40 million package to support the Forum Fisheries Agency, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program, and
• We are investing $32 million over four years in the Climate and Oceans Support Program in the Pacific, which will help fourteen Pacific national meteorological services make seasonal forecasts, build capacity and use climate and oceans science, including to disseminate highly accurate data on sea levels from tide gauges.
Conclusion
I will now vacate the podium and hand over to scientists, Sunny and Ueneta, who will tell us, from an island perspective, how science and knowledge are helping to meet local challenges. I want to conclude by recalling what President Kennedy, over fifty years ago now, said when addressing a gathering of distinguished sailors:
"I really don't know why it is that all of us are so committed to the sea, but I think ... it's because we all came from the sea. And it is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea - whether it is to sail or to watch it - we are going back from whence we came."
President Kennedy was right. He knew what countless generations of islanders and mariners around the world have always understood: the ocean is us, and we are the ocean. We are happy to be partners with our Pacific friends and neighbours on this great journey of discovery.
I'll see you all again – where the ocean meets the sky.
Thank you.

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