The Minister for Defence, National Security and Policing, Hon. Inia Seruiratu;
Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Defense Attaches; Senior Government Officials;
The Women and Men of the FHS;
Ladies and Gentlemen.
Bula Vinaka and a very good evening to you all.
I’m delighted to be here this evening to mark the Golden Jubilee for the Fiji Hydrographic Service (FHS). Just last month marked five decades of Fijian Independence and you should each take pride in a legacy as old as an independent Fiji itself.
To the average, untrained eye, one patch of blue Pacific Ocean isn’t so unlike another. But the women and men in this room know there is an entire world beneath the waves as rich and varied as anything above sea level. And every serious captain will tell you: What you can’t see can still hurt you, quite badly if you are not careful. Without the proper charts and navigation equipment in Fijian waters, your boat could easily smash straight into any of the thousands of kilometres of reef surrounding our islands. Looking out here from the Yacht Club, every boat berthed in this harbour owes the integrity of its hull to the work of the women and men in this room.
I just returned to Suva from an overnight voyage aboard the RFNS Savenaca back from Kadavu. It was pitch-black the whole way home. Thanks in no small part to the mapping done by the FHS, we safely navigated through the North Astrolabe Reef, we passed nearby Beqa Passage and the Levu Passage ridge, all of which have been surveyed and chartered by the FHS, allowing vessels to safely traverse those waters. And we passed only a short distance from Rovodrau Bay, which will have its charts publicly released today. Today we can take that safe journey for granted. Really, we – and thousands of other ships – owe that safety to the 50 years of service of the FHS, along with others, like the United Kingdom Hydrography Office.
As a blue economy, we depend on the FHS to allow ships to safely navigate our ocean and keep Fiji at the cutting-edge of ocean science. For thousands of years the ocean was Fiji’s only bridge to the world. Even as we’ve embraced the modern might of large-scale commercial air travel, shipping for Fiji is more critical today than ever.
In a usual year, we import more than 80,000 of those massive twenty-foot containers we see on the cargo ships in our major ports. On top of that we import another 400,000 tonnes of loose cargo.
Without well-mapped ports, all that food and those supplies, construction materials, vehicles, and other vital goods we rely on to run our modern economy would never arrive to Fiji, and many of our Fijian-made exports would never ship throughout the world. Instead, we can rely on maritime charts of properly surveyed waters to navigate throughout our 1.3 million square kilometres of Fijian ocean. That matters a great deal in normal times and in times of crisis, when vessels must urgently ship relief supplies to isolated regions.
I know we’re here to celebrate a half century of service given by the FHS to Fiji. But tonight, I want to speak about the future of the vast ocean Fijians are entrusted with protecting.
The ocean is more than Fiji’s bridge to the world, it represents a precious piece of who we are as a people. It feeds us. It provides us with jobs. It regulates our climate, actually helping stop global warming from becoming worse. But our ocean is beset by devastating challenges. Overfishing, pollution, and climate change all threaten to strip our ocean bare, putting the future of every Fijian, along with every other person on Earth, at risk.
Fiji is leading the world down a better, bluer path. A future where all people live in harmony with sustainably managed oceans. But we can’t settle for lecturing the world on what to do, we have to walk the talk. We have to lead through our example. This week we opened consultation on a draft National Ocean Policy to do just that, as it maps our way towards the 100% sustainable management of every square kilometre of our ocean, with 30% to be as declared marine protected areas.
My friend and fellow climate champion, Mike Bloomberg, has an expression I love. He says, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it”. When it comes to the ocean, he’s spot on. And the FHS serves as our eyes to the ocean. Not only to our major ports, but to the reefs in the furthest maritime reaches of the country which coastal communities have relied for generations, to the high seas, to the hidden depths of our deepest passages, the FHS is quite literally deepening our knowledge of the ocean we are committed to protect. You are providing us the foundational information we need to conduct research and strategically cordon-off protected areas to preserve their rich bio-diversity. You may not do that research yourselves, but your data and intelligence make it possible. And that makes each of you stewards of the ocean.
For those reasons and so many more we will continue to call on the FHS through the decades to come in our effort to keep our oceans safe and ensure they are sustainably managed.
Tonight, is your night: Enjoy it. Tomorrow, the next 50 years of your legacy will kick-off, may they be our best and bluest ever.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.