Honourable Prime Minister Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama Remarks at the Fiji-Sweden Oceans Summit Event

New York
Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Deputy Prime Minister for International Development Cooperation and Climate Change of Sweden,

The Minister for the Environment, Energy and Maritime Affairs of France,

 

The President of the UN General Assembly,

Excellencies,

Ladies and Gentleman,

Bula vinaka and a very good afternoon/evening to you all.
Next June, the community of nations will gather in New York to address one of the greatest challenges the world has ever faced – the current threat to the health of our oceans and seas. 

The unrelenting degradation of this precious resource should be a matter of grave concern to every person on the planet. 
Certainly for a Small Island Developing State such as Fiji, it is an issue almost as pressing as the extreme weather events and rising sea levels caused by climate change. Because the seas are our life-blood. And without the bounty they provide us with on a daily basis, the health and wellbeing of our people – along with their livelihoods - is clearly at risk.

I’m delighted to be here as Fiji and Sweden come together to highlight our joint hosting of the United Nations Conference on Oceans next year. I want to begin by thanking the Swedish Government for partnering with Fiji on this vitally important initiative. And to thank the Swedish Mission at the UN for holding this event. 
I also appreciate the attendance of everyone else in the room. And ask you all to do everything you can to promote this Conference and draw global attention to the issues at stake – the urgent need to reverse the pollution, the overfishing and the destruction of marine habitats that has reached crisis proportions in so many parts of the world. 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, many of you may not know that my background is as a sailor and officer in the Fijian Navy. The sea has been my life. And I have a huge affinity for it, as do most people who, in the words of the old Psalm, “go down to the sea in ships”.
I have witnessed the steady deterioration of our seas and oceans over the years with my own eyes. Where once all our Pacific waters were pristine, now parts are clogged with plastic bags and bottles. Where once you could throw a line out over the side and be guaranteed a catch, often the fish are few and far between. Because in far too many instances, our waters have been stripped. 
The selfish commercial plunder of our seas by unscrupulous nations and unscrupulous interests is not only robbing our people of a precious resource. The current level of overfishing simply cannot continue for a moment longer without putting stocks at risk. And destroying the source of food and income on which so many of our coastal communities depend.

In addition, the dumping of rubbish at sea has also reached crisis proportions. In some instances, it is admittedly our own people who have yet to appreciate that they cannot use our pristine waters as a rubbish dump and that most things they throw into the ocean are not bio-degradable. And we are doing what we can to educate them. But there is nothing small Pacific Island nations can do about the huge deposits of refuse - and especially plastic bags and bottles - that originate from countries on the Pacific rim and are carried by the ocean currents into our own waters.

By global standards, the waters around Fiji are still relatively unpolluted and we want to keep it that way for ourselves and our international visitors. But I am deeply concerned about any further deterioration in the quality of the water around us from outside sources. And the overfishing that is taking place and is threatening the interests of every Fijian.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a chance next June to bring the nations together to formulate a more concerted and holistic response to saving our oceans and seas. This gathering is being described as the jewel in the crown of the 71st Session – with thousands of people from around the world expected to converge on New York for the four days from the 5th to the 9th of June. 
Fiji is naturally very proud to be co-hosting this event with our Swedish friends. It is a great honour for a Pacific Small Island Developing State to be given the task of doing so and and Fiji shares that honour with every Pacific Islander. 

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, just as time is running out to address the challenges of climate change, time is running out to save our oceans and seas. We have nine months to prepare for this landmark gathering and I again urge the global community to do everything possible to make it as success. Because if we don’t seize this opportunity to reverse the degradation of our seas and oceans, the old sailor in me very much believes that it may be too late. 

Thank you all for supporting Fiji and Sweden as we try to turn back the tide. And let’s bring the rest of the world together in New York next June to do the same.

Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.

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