The United Nations’ first ever Ocean Conference, held in New York between June 5-9th, rightfully created a platform for communities most impacted by the dramatic changes facing our ocean: Pacific Islanders. With the urgent mission to support the implementation of UN Sustainable Goal 14 (to conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development), the UN Ocean Conference was the perfect opportunity for Okeanos Foundation for the Sea to boldly represent its goal of bringing traditional and sustainable sea transportation to Pacific people on the front lines of climate change.
A multi-media exhibit curated by several organizations called “Save Our Oceans” welcomed delegates at the lobby of the United Nations Visitors Center, which significantly featured the many important initiatives of Okeanos Foundation. Okeanos’ section of the exhibit, Ocean Peoples, was met with tremendous success, allowing visitors to literally walk through the narrative of the voyaging Renaissance, beginning with the migration of voyagers across the Pacific, to highlights of our 2011-2012 Te Mana o Te Moana voyage, and finally to the present-day use of our new workhorse of the Pacific, the single-masted Vaka Motu, designed to meet the everyday challenges of islanders most vulnerable to climate change.
The exhibit space also doubled as a VIP holding area, during GLISPA’s high level reception where Pacific leaders committed to the strides necessary to mitigate the challenges facing their countries. Among the delegation, was President Tommy Remengesau Jr. of Palau who also spoke with Okeanos Foundation Chairman Dieter Paulmann during a live interview at the SDG Media Zone entitled “Supporting Communities that Depend on Oceans”. During the discussion, both Dieter and President Remengesau stressed the crucial leadership role that Pacific Islands play in ocean stewardship.
“The Pacific is our lungs, our heart – it gives us breath for everybody in the world,” said Dieter. “So when I said I have to do something for the ocean, I went where people were already intensely fighting for partnerships.”
President Remengesau, who has protected an unprecedented 80% of Palau’s marine territory, noted that, despite contributing the least to climate change, Pacific Islanders are the leaders setting the stage for the world to follow. “Many countries in the Pacific, like Palau, already have a very ambitious renewable target. By the year 2025, Palau would like to be at least 45% energy efficient and not use fossil fuel,” said Remengesau who emphasized that Okeanos’ wind, solar, and coconut oil-powered canoes would help his Micronesian country reach those goals. “We have tons of sunlight and what better way to motor a boat that can be run by solar energy.” Click here to watch the whole interview.
While the Ocean Conference asked governments, UN bodies and civil society groups over 1,000 voluntary commitments to improve the health of our oceans, it is still too early to determine the outcome of such pledges. Still, the many bolstered partnerships coming out of the UN Ocean Conference 2017, such as the one with Okeanos Foundation and President Remengesau – who sailed on the Okeanos Marshall just this week at the Malama Honua summit in Hawaii – offers a sea of hope for our future.
Okeanos Foundation’s “Ocean Peoples” exhibit will be open to the public all summer at the United Nations Visitors Lobby.