By Pita Ligaiula

The adoption of the new Biodiversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) treaty by member states of the United Nations ‘recognises and upholds the special connection we have with our ocean’, says Pacific Islands Forum Secretary General Henry Puna.

“The take-away from these eight years is that when we are all working together to support the priorities set by our countries, we can achieve great things. We commit to continue engaging hand in hand with our partners for the benefit of our Blue Pacific region.

“The new treaty recognises and upholds the special connection we have with our ocean. It recognises that coastal states have interests in what is going on outside our borders. It recognises that our Indigenous Peoples and local communities have a role to play in the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity even beyond our borders, and that their rights as holders of traditional knowledge must be upheld,” said Puna in a statement on the historic adoption of the BBNJ Agreement.

“Today we celebrate the momentous occasion of the adoption of the BBNJ instrument to conserve and sustainably use biodiversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

“The international community has taken the most significant step forward in law of the sea in this century. The BBNJ treaty addresses gaps not covered in UNCLOS and, thanks to our skillful negotiators, do this while capturing many of our regional priorities,” Puna stressed.

He said this adoption is reflective of the culmination of eight years of Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner(OPOC) engagement with regional stakeholders from the Pacific Ocean Alliance, including regional organisations, to support Pacific negotiators.

“In May 2015, the first Pacific Ocean Alliance meeting was convened under the theme of “High Hopes for the High Seas”. I take this opportunity to recognise the leadership of the former Secretary General Dame Meg Taylor who initiated OPOC’s role as a coordinating regional entity to support our dedicated negotiators throughout the BBNJ process.

“I also acknowledge the leadership of the incoming Pacific Ocean Commissioner, Dr Filimon Manoni who has guided the work of the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner and provided strategic advice to the BBNJ negotiations in the last few years,” said Puna. By recognising the special circumstances of Small Islands Developing States (SIDS), the treaty will ensure that our Pacific Island countries receive proper support in the implementation of the treaty, said Puna.

“Together with a framework for the sharing of monetary and non-monetary benefits from the access and utilisation of marine genetic resources and digital sequence information derived from them, it provides for means to support the development of capacity in research and development and provide our countries with adequate technologies to be the custodians of the ocean that are meant to be.

With the adoption of this new treaty, I look forward to supporting the ongoing efforts of our regional leads on Oceans including the Pacific Community, Forum Fisheries Agency, and Regional Environment Programme alongside the incoming Pacific Ocean Commissioner Dr Filimon Manoni in seeing through the implementation of this treaty and its benefits for our future, and the generations to come,” said Forum SG Puna.