In the past few days the SIG has made some encouraging statements and have taken some admirable actions that indicate that they are moving forward concretely on some important ocean specific issues. It is heartening to hear that SIG is showing a willingness to take positive steps and measures to manage and utilize Solomons' marine resources for the benefit of the nation.
I read over the past few days that: (1) the PM is talking about the need to better manage our fisheries resources; (2) the SIG has signed the Coral Triangle Initiative and; (3) the government had apparently reached an understanding, with our two neighbours, to jointly submit a claim to the UN which could potentially see an expansion of a certain portion of Solomon Islands' territory beyond the 200 miles EEZ already guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
On (3) - while I have not cited any specific reason for such a joint submission - that such a submission is even considered suggests to me that there may be some uncertainty regarding the boundaries between the three contracting States (Solomons, PNG and FSM). Or perhaps the geographic make-up of the area claimed dictated the type of submission planned. Otherwise, I would have thought that an individual national claim would have been a more preferable route but perhaps this is not technically possible due the above assumptions or other reasons.
It should be noted that PNG's capacity on this specific issues of the continental-shelf and seabed mining are considerably greater than the Solomons' simply because they have been dealing with this issue longer and have dedicated resources to this issue for some time now. Otherwise the focus on the seabed is fully warranted as the prospects for benefiting from seabed mining in the future is quite positive.
I would like to encourage the SIG to continue to view the ocean and its resources (current and potential) as a key component through which gains achieved can be directed to the continuous strive towards achieving its sustainable development goals.
In light of these positive steps being taken by the government, I would call on the SIG to develop a comprehensive and integrated National Oceans Policy (NOP), if one has not yet been embarked upon. Such an integrated policy should minimize the piecemeal approach to ocean related issues and it would be a recognition of the fact that issues regarding the oceans are interrelated and should be addressed as a whole.
I noted that the PM had reportedly stated in his visit to the Ministry responsible for fisheries that "our fisheries resources are our future". A slogan for a NOP could be: "Our Ocean is our Future". It should outline the government's ocean management policies and deal with issues of fisheries as well as seabed mining. It should also cover other living organisms as well. It should deal with coastal as well as pelagic zones. It should address environmental concerns, including conservation and preservation issues and possible establishment of networks of marine protected areas. It should deal with marine pollution issues with the knowledge that some 90% of marine pollution are land-based.
There are a myriad of international agreed standards that have already been developed since the adoption of UNCLOS that the government can use in the development and formulation of such a comprehensive NOP. These range from the Solomons' own national Tuna Management Plan, the Pacific Regional Ocean's Policy, FAO fisheries codes and guidelines to the International Sea-bed Authority's developed mining codes. Wide consultations should be carried out with the public, given the inherent traditional land/sea ownership claims that occur in Solomon Islands.
Other nations, including those in the pacific region, have adopted NOPs so the Solomons would not be re-inventing the wheel on this issue.
In addition to its own national fisheries experts, the Solomons' should tap into FFA's expertise as well, particularly on issues concerning fisheries. I also understand that there are now some qualified Solomon Islanders in on ocean and marine issues that could compliment the geologists particularly when considering issues of minerals, seabed mining and other living organisms that occur on the seabed.
It would be wise to engage these experts in the development of any such NOP to tap their knowledge and expertise as well as to build their capacity, where appropriate. If properly planned, I am certain that Solomons' development partners would be more than willing to assist in bringing such a policy to fruition.
SI National Oceans Policy
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of Peter Kenilorea (Jr.) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Solomon Times Online.
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