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#OurOcean opens in Malta

The site of the Our Ocean Conference in St Julian’s, Malta.
HRH The Prince of Wales notes that recent years have helped raise general knowledge of and understanding about the need to safeguard our ocean resources.

The fourth annual Our Ocean Conference opened today on the Mediterranean island of Malta. Hosted by the European Union in the EU’s smallest member countries, this is the first time that the global meeting – previously held in Chile and the US – comes to Europe. 

A full plenary hall of attendees was welcomed by the European Union hosts. High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini  noted that “Oceans are bigger than any continent, but not too big to fail.”

Maltese native Karmenu Vella, Member of the EU Commission responsible for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries spoke about the important nature of the Our Ocean Conference, namely how this annual event brings together nations, civil society and the private sector, stressing the importance of these sectors working together to come up with innovative and viable solutions that can safeguard our oceans for future generations.

Malta’s Prime Minister welcomed participants to the island and informed them of efforts Malta is taking to protect its ocean resources, including its efforts to decrease plastic making its way to the sea by enacting a beverage refund schemes that will be fully in effect by 2019.

His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales offered an emotional keynote address about the importance of our oceans. He welcomed the conference in Malta, and in Europe, for the first time – noting that this discussion is welcome in this part of the world, and welcoming the next session in Asia, hosted by Indonesia, in 2018.

As he noted, even 10 years ago, there was little recognition about the need to tackle issues related to improving ocean health, while today the issue is widely recognized in international fora. While this is an important first step, far more must still be done.

He particularly welcomed work being done to end harmful fisheries subsidies, particularly those that lead to overfishing and IUU fishing. He highlighted discussion about ending these harmful fisheries subsidies at the upcoming WTO Ministerial meeting this December in Argentina.

His Serene Highness Prince Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco, stressed the need for science-based ocean policies and actions.
The Marine Protected Areas panel was filled with numerous pledges and interesting discussion.
Chile’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Heraldo Muñoz moderated the panel session on Marine Protected Areas.
The Cook Islands’ Prime Minister spoke about the special relationship island dwellers have with the oceans that surround them.

His Serene Highness Prince Albert II, Sovereign Prince of Monaco also welcomed this edition of Our Ocean in Europe, and spoke about his institute’s work with ocean issues and the necessity of ensuring that ocean management policies are based on sound science. He also stressed that we must all do a better job of communicating this science to broader audiences. 

This session of the Ocean Conference is divided into six priority areas, and each area will be discussed in panel discussions throughout the two days of the Conference.  On the first day, there were panel on Marine pollution, Marine protection and Maritime Security. Each of the three sessions was followed by pledges by countries, civil society organizations and the private sector providing concrete examples of work and financial support that they would be contributing to each action area.

Canada’s Minister for Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc announced that with a new marine protected area being created now, Canada will soon have 5% of its coastal areas designated as marine protected areas. He said he would be heading an advisory board to ensure consistent standards for any MPAs being created in the future.

The first session was a panel discussion on marine pollution, with an emphasis on the alarming amount of plastic that is making its way into our oceans. Indian lawyer and environmental activist Afroz Shah set the scene, speaking about the severe problem of plastics on the beaches of his native Mumbai. He began organizing beach cleanups on Mumbai beaches and his actions led to eight thousand tones of plastic being removed from Mumbai beaches. Although he claims every effort counts, he claims that the real gain in these actions is to make people see their surroundings difficulty, and to moderate their behaviours to improve the situation. “When someone comes to clean the beaches, the experience changes them. He sees the effects individual actions have, and chances are he’ll change the way he views plastics and how he disposes it more responsibly in the future.” The session was moderated by New York University Professor Ayana Johnson who stressed that we must all change our behaviours to make a true difference. “We must break our addiction to plastics, recycle the plastic we do use and avoid increasing the amount we are producing.”

Sweden’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for International Development Isabella Lövin, who was a co-chair at June’s Ocean Conference, welcomed all the attention focused on oceans. He announced a 3-year 199 million euro pledge by Sweden to clean-up the Baltic Sea, this includes removing residues of past industrial waste, addressing pharmaceutical residues found in the Baltic, and reducing marine plastics. Various pledges were announced, including from China, the UK, France, the EU, New Zealand, Panama, the US and many civil society and private sector attendees. The first afternoon panel discussion addressed Marine Protection.

The session was moderated by Heraldo Muñoz, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Republic of Chile. In his discussion, Minister Muñoz admitted to feeling a sense of owenership with Our Oceans, since it had been held in Chile. He praised the unique blend of states alongside civil society and then private sector, because “protecting the oceans is not just the responsibility of states. All of us are responsible for safeguarding our oceans.” He spoke about existing marine protected areas and a new MPA that was just announced, which means that Chile will be close to 45% of its EEZ dedicated t MPAs.

Prime Minister Henry Puna of the Pacific’s Cook Islands spoke to the audience about how he and his fellow islanders have only 240 square kilometers of land mass spread out over 15 islands, compared to their two million square kilometers of ocean territory. “For this reason, we from the Cook Islands breathe the ocean, we live it, and we die beside it. It is who we are. It is a part of us.” He spoke of a whale sanctuary created in 2001 and a shark sanctuary in 2012. In closing, President Puna said, “Mankind only has one global ocean. We must take action now – together.”

Canada’s Minister for Fisheries, Oceans and the Canadian Coast Guard Dominic LeBlanc announced that with a new marine protected area being created now, Canada will soon have 5% of its coastal areas designated as marine protected areas.

The Marine Protected Areas panel was filled with numerous pledges and interesting discussion.

He said he would be heading an advisory board to ensure consistent standards for any MPAs being created in the future.

The Minister for Natural Resources of the Pacific island of Niue, Dalton Tagelagi, announced that 40% of its EEZ would now be dedicated to a large-scale marine protected area, which would prohibit commercial fishing but allow for artisanal fishing. “Our pledge is not a sacrifice for us, but an investment in our future. We believe our ancestors would be proud.”

The final panel session addressed Maritime security. This action area covered an extremely wide range of topics, ranging from illegal fishing, trafficking of drugs or people, migration, forced labour and slave labour on fishing vessels, and piracy.

Seychelles President Faure discussed important International collaboration to end piracy in the Indian Ocean. Indonesia's Minister of Ocean Affairs and Fisheries presented her country's efforts to end illegal fishing, an activity her country believes was stripping Indonesian water of 50% of its fisheries resources.

A full day wrapped up after numerous panel sessions, exchanges of ideas, and pledges by countries, NGOs and the private sector for innovative and creative approaches to safeguard #OurOcean.

We look forward to continued ocean dialogue on Day 2 of #OurOcean.

The harbour in front of the Our Oceans venue.
A Maltese folk dance performance ends a busy day of sessions.
Colourful Maltese boats at harbor.
The Our Ocean Conference is accompanied by stunning, underwater images of life below water

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