Ambassador Peter Thomson, UN Special Envoy for the Ocean,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Bula vinaka, and a very good afternoon to you all.
Off the coast of the island of Vanua Levu, Fiji, lies one of the world’s largest reef systems, the Great Sea Reef –– locally, we call it “Cakaulevu”.
Spanning a vast 200 kilometres of unbroken and pristine barrier reef, Cakaulevu would cover the distance from Bonn to Brussels –– yet most of the world likely isn’t even aware of this remarkable, expansive ecosystem’s existence.
But we in Fiji are keenly aware of the Great Sea Reef, and of its vital importance to the way we live, what we eat, and how we protect ourselves from natural disasters.
But I say “natural” disaster with some aversion; I personally have a hard time seeing what is “natural” about the record-breaking cyclones devastating local economies. Because while they happen at the hands of Mother Nature, it is humankind that is to blame for the climate emergency that is ravaging our reefs with superstorms and mass bleaching.
Compounding this destruction are flows of waste and plastic pollution choking our waterways, destructive over-fishing and other abuses of ocean resources.
My friends, the world’s coral reefs are being killed off at an astonishing rate. Even if global temperature rise is capped at our more-ambitious 1.5-degree target, 70 to 90 per cent of the world’s reef-building coral will be wiped out. Should the world get even warmer, we risk mass extinction events from which our planet will never recover.
It is not only reef-dense countries like Fiji that will suffer the consequences; without reefs, life in our oceans will be knocked out of balance and we’ll lose a critical buffer in protecting ourselves from the devastating impacts of the global climate crisis.
Luckily, we have friends like the World Wildlife Fund who realise the immense urgency of curbing this troubling trend, and in protecting what precious reefs the world has left.
The Coral Reef Rescue Initiative gives us a rescue strategy that will help us avoid this coral catastrophe, harnessing the best available science and research to target those critical reefs with the best prospects and strongest capacity to re-generate. Through this initiative –– and working alongside nations like Fiji and Indonesia –– we can help the planet to heal.
Fiji’s reefs alone account for over five per cent of the world’s total reef regeneration capacity –– a hugely outsized share compared to our landmass and our population –– making our embrace of this critical project central to delivering its success. That’s why today, we’re proud to stand alongside Indonesia to come on board as an official partner to the Coral Reef Rescue Initiative and we look forward to welcoming more countries to join us.
Vinaka Vakalevu. Thank you.