Thursday, September 16, 2010

As a tiny island nation makes a big sacrifice, will the rest of the world follow suit?

Film about the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Republic of Kiribati.
A New England Aquarium World of Water film

From Mongabay

Kiribati, a small nation consisting of 33 Pacific island atolls, is forecast to be among the first countries swamped by rising sea levels.
Nevertheless, the country recently made an astounding commitment: it closed over 150,000 square miles of its territory to fishing, an activity that accounts for nearly half the government's tax revenue.

What moved the tiny country to take this monumental action?
Anote Tong, says Kiribati ("Kir-ee-bas") is sending a message to the world: "We need to make sacrifices to provide a future for our children and grandchildren."

President Tong isn't mincing his words. Kiribati looks to make the ultimate sacrifice by mid-century, when much of the country is projected to be largely uninhabitable.
Rising seas will contaminate freshwater supplies, ruin agriculture lands, and erode beaches and villages, forcing its people to flee.
Kiribati has done nothing to earn this fate—its greenhouse gas emissions are negligible and its population barely tops 100,000.
Yet it is already looking at buying land in other countries for eventual resettlement of a substantial proportion of its population.

Kiribati is among the world's poorest countries.
It has few natural resources other than fish and copra, the dried meat of coconut.
It does however have of some of the world's most pristine coral reefs and healthiest fish stocks, which have now become the basis of its contribution to the well-being of the planet: the
Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), which at 408,250 square kilometers is the largest marine World Heritage site (see PIPA seamounts fly-through in Google Earth)

PIPA is part of President Tong's bigger, more ambitious initiative, the Pacific Oceanscape—38.5 million square kilometers (24 million square miles) of ocean, an area larger than the land territories of the United States, Canada and Mexico combined.
Over the past two years, President Tong has brought together 16 Pacific Ocean nations to develop the initiative, which seeks to maintain ocean health by improving management of fisheries, protecting and conserving biodiversity, furthering scientific understanding of the marine ecosystem, and reducing the negative impacts of human activities.

President Tong's efforts in the face of incredible adversity has earned him considerable respect in the conservation world.
Dr. Greg Stone, Chief Ocean Scientist and Senior Vice President for Marine Conservation at Conservation International, likens him to the "Teddy Roosevelt of Oceans" in that President Tong is doing for oceans what the 26th president did for land conservation in the United States around the turn of the 20th century.

"What we are seeing here is the dawning of a new era for marine management," he said.
President Tong brought his message to San Francisco last week for the California and the World Ocean 2010 conference.
Presenting along side U.S. Representative
Sam Farr (Dem-CA), NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, philanthropist David Rockefeller Jr., oceanographer Sylvia Earle, and hundreds of marine scientists and conservationists, President Tong urged the world to take action to protect oceans and avoid climate change.

"There is obviously a need to consolidate all of the efforts in ocean governance in the Pacific and indeed in the world if we are to successfully manage and conserve these resources for present and future generations," he said.

Following his keynote address at the conference, President Tong discussed climate change and marine conservation with's Rhett Butler (see the
article of Mongabay, a short excerpt of the interview with President Tong).

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