Pacific Islands: The Ocean is Our Mother

August 29, 2012


In the Pacific Island region, whole economies and populations depend on fisheries for their survival.

August 29, 2012,  Kiribati - This week is the Pacific Islands Forum and leaders from around the world are discussing the importance of healthy oceans, a particularly pressing issue for the small countries of the Pacific. In this region whole economies and populations depend on fisheries for their survival. 

Made up of 32 atolls and one island spread over 3.5 million square kilometers of ocean, an area about the size of India, the remote Pacific island nation of Kiribati has the biggest water to land ratio in the world. You are never more than 500 meters away from the sea, and it permeates i-Kiribati culture, provides nearly all of the country’s food and more than half of its GDP. With no refrigeration, fish is caught and sold on a daily basis, with about 80 percent of the population engaged in fishing for their livelihoods. 

“We call the sea in Kiribati our Mother Ocean,” said Claire Anterea, Convenor of the Climate Action Network in Kiribati. “We eat fish in the morning for breakfast, we eat fish for lunch and we eat fish at dinner time. And in our day, we get money also from our ocean. Young people, the men go out fishing, and then the women sell the fish along the roads.”

Fisheries are a critical source of income in a poor country. Swimming through the vast expanse of Kiribati’s exclusive economic zone is one of the country’s richest and most abundant resources, some of the world’s last remaining tuna. 60 percent of the global tuna catch is now drawn from the Western and Central Pacific ocean. 

" As you know it’s our main natural resource that we have and most of our revenue is derived from fishing, mostly from fishing licenses, and last year it contributed as much as 60 percent of government revenues. So it’s quite significant in terms of the economy "

Beero Tioti

Kiribati’s Director of Fisheries

“But of course there are also issues in the fishing world. At this stage the Pacific has the only healthy tuna stock in the world so there are obligations to sustain that. In all respects, Kiribati is always trying to maintain that balance.”

People living in small island countries rely on healthy oceans for feeding their families and providing their income, more than in other parts of the world. It is difficult to over-state their importance. Every day, Toarine Itinnaa markets the fish that her husband catches out at sea at a small street-side stall. “Fishing is everything to us. We have no other way of surviving, it is our main source of income. It is our life.”

But this resource is under threat, from climate change, pollution and over-fishing, with more than 786,000 tonnes of fish taken illegally from the Pacific every year. Countries like Kiribati face significant impacts from rising sea level and increasing ocean acidification.

The Government of Kiribati is taking vital steps towards protecting its marine resources, for its wildlife and its people. It has created one of the world’s largest marine protected areas containing over 120 varieties of coral and 520 fish species, implemented a number of measures to deal with illegal and unreported fishing, and spearheaded the Pacific Oceanscape Initiative, a regional framework for marine conservation. 

This week is pivotal. It is a golden opportunity for Pacific leaders as well as  those involved in the Pacific Oceanscape Framework and Global Partnership for Oceans to come together to build on these commitments, and protect this most precious resource for the future.