Tuvalu at the United Nations

Tuvalu Statement
at the Seventh UNICPOLOS
by H.E. Ambassador Enele S Sopoaga
at the Seventh UN Consultative Process on Oceans and Law of the Sea
New York Monday 12 June 2006

“The Ecosystem Approach and SIDS”


Let me start by thanking the Department of Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea, DOALOS, for facilitating the participation of our experts from Capitals through paying and arranging for travel. We wish to strongly echo the importance of this support for the participation particularly of Small Island Developing States delegates in this very important process.

I associate this statement with that just delivered by the distinguished Permanent Representative of PNG on behalf of the PIF Missions Group in New York.

To our understanding, Co-Chairs, the Ecosystem Approach is a strategy for the integrated management of land, water and living resources that promotes conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way. The Ecosystem Approach places human needs at the centre of biodiversity management. It aims to manage the ecosystem, based on the multiple functions that ecosystems perform and the multiple uses that are made of these functions. The ecosystem approach does not aim for short-term economic gains, but aims to optimise the use of an ecosystem without damaging it.

The protection of marine and terrestrial ecosystems is vitally important for the survival of island communities as clearly highlighted by the Mauritius Strategy for the Sustainable Development of SIDS. Coral reefs provide a major source of food protein as well as providing a valuable tourism resource.

Island communities in the Pacific practiced the Ecosystem Approach well before the term was developed. Island communities are closely linked to their ecosystems and this linkage has been reflected in their culture and religion.

The ecosystem approach was practiced in the form of taboos. For instance in some Pacific Island countries certain fishing areas were closed after certain notable events such as the death of a leader. This allowed fishing stocks to be restored. In Tuvalu, lagoon fishing was discouraged in good weather. Only when the weather turned bad were fishermen allowed to fish in the lagoons. This allowed a cycle of exploitation and recuperation.  In the same vein, Tuvalu is a party to the Pacific Islands Ocean Policy Framework. But given our lack of capacity we wish to seek technical and financial assistance in the Policy proper elaboration and implementation at the national level.

Islanders in Tuvalu and the Pacific traveled great distances by sailing canoes and paddled canoes. Access to fishing areas was dependent on favourable weather and the right winds. Since the introduction of motorized boats this has changed and access to certain fishing areas is far easier. This has placed a greater pressure on marine habitats both coastal and oceans.

Today the ecosystem approach is applied in the context of protected marine reserves. Some of the reserves are absolute exclusion areas while others allow limited exploitation on a controlled basis.  We believe this is the most appropriate approach for the proper management of our oceans and resources.

Climate Change as a Threat
There are also many global threats to marine habitats that are associated with island communities.

Climate change is one of the greatest. Ocean warming through climate change is progressively changing marine ecosystems. Coral reefs are being bleached by hotter waters. More severe cyclones and hurricanes caused by climate change are causing greater damage to coral reef ecosystems.

Another effect of climate change is the acidification of the oceans. This is caused by an increase in dissolved carbon dioxide entering from the atmosphere. Coral reefs are weakened by acidification.  Ocean acidification is further created by deep sea disposal of carbon dioxide, used as a so-called climate change mitigation technology. These practices need to be banned before they take a hold.

Studies by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community indicated that ocean warming also affects the distribution and abundance of tuna stocks. Tuna is a major source of income and livelihood for many island countries.

Recent studies by British researchers in the Antarctic suggest that the krill population has crashed due to ocean warming and melting of ice sheets in the Antarctic. As krill is a major food source for whales, this is creating a serious threat to whale populations (maybe even more serious than whaling)

Marine Pollution
Marine pollution from shipping accidents is a further threat to island communities and their ecosystems. The potential of an accident from a ship carrying highly radioactive nuclear material and oil tankers are a significant potential threat to islands and their ecosystems. Ships carrying highly radioactive material and oil tankers regularly pass through the oceans of Pacific and Caribbean islands

Marine ecosystems are also caused by land based sources. This is a critical issue for SIDS. With limited facilities and capacity to manage waste and an ever increasing amount of packaged material entering island countries, the problem of waste disposal is a serious concern.

Bottom Trawling
Destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling particularly on sensitive marine habitats such as sea mounts, deep coral beds, sponge beds, deep sea vents and other important marine habitats within and outside the limits of national jurisdiction are a serious threat. While the high seas is under the control of another regime and EEZs are under UNCLOS (and activities by nationals can be regulated under the Convention on Biological Diversity) island communities are dependent on species that migrate out of the high seas and into national territorial waters.

Some Suggestions on what can be done
Climate Change:
Far more needs to be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by all countries. Addressing climate change is the ultimate ecosystem approach as all ecosystems are affected by climate change.

To help protect against the impacts of coral bleaching, large areas of marine protected areas need to be set aside to allow recuperation after major bleaching events.

On tuna stocks we may need to establish large closure areas to allow tuna to breed and recuperate from over-fishing

We need to stop destructive fishing practices such as bottom trawling, particularly on sensitive marine habitats such as sea mounts, deep coral beds, sponge beds, deep sea vents and other important marine habitats.

We need to start exploring options for an Implementing Agreement under UNCLOS (in collaboration with the Convention on Biological Diversity) for the protection of important marine habitats beyond the limits of national jurisdiction.

Parties to the CBD need to start regulating their fishing vessels and initiate a collaborative ban on bottom trawling.

We need support to stop the live fish trade exploiting our coral reefs

We need to create shipping exclusion zones to protect marine areas from the potential of ship wrecks. This is particularly important for ships carrying highly radioactive nuclear material and oil tankers.

We need assistance with managing land based waste. We need systems of composting and where necessary compaction of waste. Extremely high temperature waste disposal such as plasma arc may be necessary for island communities to deal with highly toxic wastes such as PCBs.

Tuvalu looks forward to contributing as constructively as possible in this consultation on oceans.

Thank you

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