23/05/18

“We need to increase understanding on the seriousness of climate change and the impacts it will have on our marine life” – High-Level Climate Champion at World Turtle Day

Ni sa bula vinaka and a very good morning to you all on this beautiful day!

I am delighted to join you today on this beautiful island to celebrate World Turtle Day.

I am also happy to join you in shining the light on one of our very precious and critically endangered sea creatures – the Hawksbill Turtle, locally known as the Vonu Taku.

However, we should not also forget the other 3 species of turtles that make their homes here in Fiji and are also endangered – these are the Pacific Leatherback (or Vonu Dakulaca); the Loggerhead Turtle and the Green turtle (or the Vonu Dina). Their state of endangerment reflects the serious decline in their population.

Since the year 2000, World Turtle Day has been celebrated annually on the 23rd of May. The day serves to increase awareness on the importance of protecting our turtles and tortoises, and the protection of their threatened habitats.

This day is also an opportunity to celebrate the many efforts and achievements of the various organisations, communities and individuals who have worked tirelessly through the years to keep our turtles healthy and safe.

Most of you here today are part of this special group of people and I would like to commend and warmly congratulate you for all your hard work and commitment.

Friends,

The protection of our turtles and our other marine animals is no easy feat. You are well are of the threats that face the survival of turtles. These include – increased foreshore development, industrialisation, pollution, and waste disposal that destroy breeding grounds and contaminate marine habitats. Turtle populations are also threatened by unsustainable and illegal fishing practices and by the increase in maritime traffic.

It is crucial that these threats are addressed through – among other measures, stronger regulations, effective policies, and wide education and awareness.

In this regard, you would be aware of the moratorium on the harvesting of turtles put in place by Government from 2009 – 2018. It is encouraging to note that monitoring during this period reveals an increase in both feeding and nesting grounds for turtles, giving fresh hope for the survival of our turtle populations.

In addition, nation-wide awareness and education on the moratorium has seen increased engagement and dedication of local communities in safeguarding the survival of turtles. This is truly a significant outcome as the involvement of local coastal communities is key to protecting these precious marine species.

I would like to congratulate the organisations and communities who have played a role in making the moratorium a success. These include our government agencies; local and international NGOs; the tourism sector – like Treasure Island Resort; schools; and of course – our Fijian communities.

Friends,

I would like to now highlight another grave and very real threat. This is climate change.

Right now, the stakes couldn’t be higher as global temperatures continue to soar and the impacts of climate change intensify all around the globe.

Impacts that we in small island countries are now too familiar with. Impacts which are putting in danger our population, our economies, our ecosystems and our marine life like our precious turtles.

Sea turtles live in the sea but nest and breed on sandy beaches. And because climate change is already impacting our coastal areas and our oceans the impact this will have on the life-cycle and lives of our turtles will be devastating.

Rising sea-levels and severe storm surges are eroding and changing the landscape of the turtles’ nesting beaches.

Increasing global temperatures will affect the temperature of beach sand and this will affect the sex of turtle hatchlings. Normally, the eggs in the lower, cooler, part of the nest will become males, while the eggs in the upper, warmer, part of the nest will become females. With increasing nest temperatures, scientists predict that there will be more female than male hatchlings, creating a threat to genetic diversity.

Furthermore, the food sources of turtles are under threat because of climate change. Coral reefs are an important source of food for turtles and almost all marine species. But warming ocean temperatures and increasing ocean acidification is threatening the health and survival of coral reefs.

It is clear that we need to take action now.

The Fijian COP23 Presidency has been firm on urging the global community to commit itself to achieving the more ambitious goal of the Paris Agreement. This is to limit the average global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above that of the pre-industrial age. It is crucial we achieve this goal to ensure the wellbeing of our people and ecosystems including our precious vonu.

We need to increase understanding on the seriousness of climate change and the impacts it will have on our marine life– we need to inform, educate and mobilise action.

Fiji has been at the forefront in driving the oceans and climate change agenda. In June 2017, Fiji chaired the first UN Conference for Oceans in New York. We were determined to ensure that appropriate action at a global scale is taken for a sustainable ocean including addressing climate change impacts.

Last year during the UNFCCC COP23 in Bonn, Germany, the Fijian COP23 Presidency launched the Ocean Pathway Partnership to encourage the global climate negotiations process to address the relationship between climate change and the ocean.

The partnership will consolidate existing work being done to create a coordinated effort among governments at all levels, existing ocean alliances and coalitions, NGOs, civil society and the private sector to create a stronger link between climate action and a healthy ocean.

The Ocean Pathway Partnership will be co-chaired by Fiji and Sweden.

We are also working with Australia and other partners to create a Blue Carbon mechanism to offset the carbon footprint of essential services such as our airlines to manage, maintain and restore where needed our mangrove forests. The mechanism will not only focus on carbon benefits but will also recognise the added value of coastal protection, fishery spawning grounds, food sources and the many other ecosystem services provided by our mangroves.

Blue carbon initiatives and locally managed marine areas is part of our contribution to addressing climate change and ocean. This is also a step towards giving our turtles a chance to survive.

Today, I encourage you to continue with the important initiatives and actions that you are already taking. To continue to build partnerships and to strengthen collaboration amongst yourselves.

I urge you to join the fight against climate change and to be part of the movement taking global climate action. We need to accelerate climate action NOW!

And we can only do this together.

I’m calling on you to share your energy, your passion and your enthusiasm in driving the climate regime to save our oceans and its precious creatures.

Friends,

The vonu holds significant cultural meaning for us here in Fiji and in the Pacific. Turtles feature in our local folklore and legends. Turtles also play a part in our traditional fishing knowledge and skills.

Let us ensure that our vonu does not end up existing only in books like dinosaurs. Instead, let us ensure our vonu thrives so our children and their children can enjoy the lives of these magnificent creatures, like we are enjoying right now.

I wish you all an enjoyable and educational World Turtle Day!

Vinaka vakalevu