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UN Assembly chief calls for expanded protective areas of ocean

Updated: Apr 16, 2022

Abdulla Shahid

By Pacific Island Times News Staff

Koror-- Abdulla Shahid, president of the UN General Assembly, urged the international community to expand protective areas of the ocean, support the scientific community and tackle plastic pollution.

“There is no way to protect the ocean without wading together with all relevant stakeholders," Shahid said Thursday, addressing the 7th Our Ocean Conference co-hosted by Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr and John Kerry, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate.

The conference's organizers said the two-day event was a key moment for countries, civil society, and industry to commit to concrete and significant actions to protect the ocean.

Shahid, who hails from the Maldives, said he was heartened that the event was taking place on one of the frontline island nations most at risk from climate change-induced rising sea levels, driving home the importance of the issue.

Shahid cited four main areas of conservation and sustainable use of the ocean and seas.

First, he called for an expansion of protected areas, noting that even though the ocean covers about 70 percent of the planet, less than 8 percent of it is protected.

“The Our Ocean Conference continues to marshal global momentum in this regard," Shahid said.

Second, Shahid called for investment in “solid, reliable and accessible ocean science data and information,” which could be used to inform policies and programs."

The United Nations in 2021, declared a Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.


This year several major international summits are also being organized to promote ocean health. In June, Portugal will host the UN Ocean Conference, which will seek to propel much-needed science-based innovative solutions aimed at starting a new chapter of global ocean action.

Shahid also stressed the importance of recognizing and addressing the threats facing the ocean. Referring to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's report launched earlier this month as a “wake-up call,” he noted that “a warming planet means a warming ocean” with increased levels of acidification and greater loss of marine ecosystems and marine biodiversity.

The fourth point that he emphasized was “tackling plastic pollution”.

“Just last week, researchers found, for the first time, microplastics in lungs of humans, highlighting the scale and severity of the problem,” Shahid said, of the study published in the Science of the Total Environment.

Given that plastic takes hundreds of years to degrade, it is estimated that only about 20 percent of the plastic created since the 1950s has been incinerated or successfully recycled.

Highlighting the importance of amplifying synergies between ocean action and other Sustainable Development Goals. such as poverty reduction and sustainable consumption and production, Shahid reiterated the importance of a complete ban on plastic pollution in our ocean.


At the side event titled “Blue Foods: Crucial Component to a Climate-Resilient Blue Economy in Global Communities,” a multi-sectoral group of stakeholders outlined the efforts to bring blue foods into the heart of the ocean agenda and kickstart a movement toward greater recognition and adoption of this vital resource.

The Pacific Community (SPC), the government of Iceland, the Environmental Defence Fund, and the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions called for the creation of a coalition on aquatic and blue foods - foods derived from aquatic resources, plants or algae, either from fresh or saltwater.

Three 3 billion people get their vital nutrients from aquatic foods, which are also an important source of income for communities around the world with 800 million people depending on blue food systems for their livelihoods.

Resource speakers noted that the Pacific Ocean plays a critical role in the global food system. Coastal fisheries provide a source of income for up to 50 percent of households in the Pacific, and fish is one of the main sources of dietary protein in the region. In addition, the western and central Pacific oceans supply over half of the world’s tuna catch, which makes this industry not only vital to the region, but also to the rest of the world.


Tonga Prime Minister Hu'akavameiliku Siaosi Sovaleni said the event was the opportunity for the Pacific region to share its knowledge on blue foods with a global audience. “It is so vital that we are here today to talk not only about the food, but the whole system, and how we can approach it in a sustainable manner and learn from each other," he said.

To highlight the fact that food is at the heart of pacific cultures, the Blue Foods Side Event featured indigenous Palauan food.

With their leadership role on ocean matters, and with the ocean at the center of their food systems, Pacific island countries and territories are a strong voice on the global blue foods agenda.

“The Pacific plays a vital but unrecognized role in global blue food systems and at the same time is facing critical challenges and threats that need to be addressed," said Stuart Minchin, SPC's director-general.

"With the impacts of climate change already being felt across the region our knowledge and experience as custodians of the ocean will be instrumental in developing this coalition to build a sustainable and robust global blue food system," he added.

Ambassador Stefan Hafstein, chair of the UN Aquatic Blue Foods Coalition, said the group now has 20 members states and 30 international actors.

The coalition's key mission is to "make sure that aquatic and blue foods are an integral part of the global discussion on food systems," he said. (UN Media Center, SPC, PacNews)

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