Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very good morning to you All.

It is a pleasure to be with you today on the far Eastern edge of the Blue Pacific.

At the outset, I would like to acknowledge the Government and the people of the Republic of Panama for hosting this 8th “Our Ocean Conference.

I also wish to acknowledge the First Peoples or traditional owners of this land, the seven indigenous tribes the Ngäbe, the Buglé, the Guna, the Emberá, the Wounaan, the Bri bri, and the Naso Tjërdi. It is indeed pleasing to note the commitment of the Government of Panama to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the undertaking to ratify the ILO Convention 169 on the Rights of Indigenous and Tribal Peoples.

Please also allow me to acknowledge and thank the U.S. State Department for the initiative to draw international attention to the serious threats facing the world’s ocean and to commit to concrete action around the globe to support marine conservation and sustainable development.

The theme of our Conference “Our Ocean, Our Connection” is to protect our Ocean climate and Planet.

The six thematic areas viz a viz climate change, sustainable fisheries, sustainable blue economies, marine protected areas, marine security and marine pollution are not mutually exclusive. They are interdependent and must be addressed holistically rather than on individual or piecemeal basis or in isolation from each other.

As you may be aware, that Fiji and our 17 neighboring Pacific countries carry the cultural and historical inheritance of Ocean navigators of peerless skill and their courageous kin who crossed vast distances.

They journeyed in mighty outrigger canoes transporting up to 100 crew and passengers.

Our forebears created unique enduring civilisations in the islands and atolls they discovered.  They were at one with nature and the Ocean.

As custodians of what we call the “Blue Pacific,” we are united and ready to play our part, to help Planet Earth and ensure our collective survival.

That is the very reason for our presence at this “Our Ocean Conference” here in Panama.

Last week I presided over a meeting in Fiji of the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), the premier political grouping of our region. It was attended by 18 Pacific leaders.

The outcomes of the meeting recognises that the Ocean is central to our collective existence and survival.

Our Communique focused on the 2050 Strategy that emphasizes preserving, protecting and securing the Ocean. As custodians and stewards we must ensure that our people can continue to benefit from our resources through sustainable development.

We, the small developing countries of the Pacific, can only shoulder this responsibility with the support of all our global partners, including our friends from Central and Southern America.

A “business as usual” approach will render our nations uninhabitable and disrupt the livelihoods of millions particularly the vulnerable and the poor.

Our discussions here must focus on reaching consensus to deepen global action to reduce climate impacts on our oceans. Pacific SIDS have also come here in pursuit of innovative partnerships and ideas.

We are here to talk about solutions. Solutions that are relevant and applicable to all our interests.

Fiji has made some progress in creating space for sustainable investment in our Blue Economy to combat climate induced development challenges in collaboration with the Global Fund for Coral Reefs and the United Nations Pacific Office.

Most importantly, Fiji is working in partnership with the private sector to invest in reef conservation and regeneration.

Some progress is being made in the implementation of our commitment to Locally Managed Marine Area Networks (LMMAs) to support sustainable income generation, more remains to be done.

We are engaged in other frontiers to ensure sustainability and climate resilience. Despite limited resources available, the Government has placed priority to resettle communities and build capacities for rehabilitation.

These are enormous challenges for us.

Recognizing the massive pressure on our domestic fish stock caused by increasing sea surface temperatures, Fiji seeks to revitalize its aquaculture sector through public private partnerships that support state of the art hatchery facilities, targeted commercial and community-based projects and the diversification of our export base using sustainable aquaculture.

We are also working on establishing carbon neutral energy sources, although at a slow pace. This has been a tough path for Fiji due to technological limitation and lack of infrastructure.

The support from both bilateral and multilateral partners present at this conference to co-finance our blue bond investments and provide credit guarantee solutions to help us access affordable ocean finance at near concessionary rates is necessary.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a decade since the first “Our Oceans Conference,” we are struggling to meet our biodiversity, nature and ocean protection commitments. Successes are few and far between.

Despite our challenges, we will not give up. Our commitment and determination can only be achieved with more resources, technical assistance, and a robust international legal framework for action in all spheres of oceanic and environmental protection.

It is through partnership and commitment that we will achieve our collective ocean sustainability goals and enhancing our networking capabilities for this grand purpose.

Finally, I wish all delegates a very successful “Our Ocean Conference.”

May God Bless You

Vinaka Vakalevu and Thank you very much.

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