FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Navigating Cooler, Cleaner Oceans

FHTA Tourism Talanoa: Navigating Cooler, Cleaner Oceans

FHTA, 9 June 2022 – Over three billion people depend on the marine and coastal biodiversity of the oceans for their livelihoods according to United Nations research.

That’s almost 40 percent of the entire global population. Fiji’s ocean resources generate about $2.5 billion worth of economic activity annually, according to the National Ocean Policy released in 2020, with marine-related tourism contributing about $1.2 billion (US$531 million) to the economy each year.

The balance of ocean resources is based on the value of fishing, commercial food harvesting, mineral and marine aggregate mining, coastal protection, carbon sequestration, and research and education that is generated from the ocean.

The Convention of Biological Diversity notes that “the top 100 metres of the open oceans host the great majority of the sea life with which we are most familiar—turtles, fish and marine mammals—as well as the microscopic plankton that forms an integral part of the marine food web and provides so much of the oxygen that we breathe”.

With over 300 islands making up the Fijian Islands, our forefathers, as many other Pacific Island communities did, navigated using only the stars and sailed the seas in search of new lands and used its bounty for sustenance.

Today the ocean is just as important to us as it ever was, especially as the oceans produce over half of the world’s oxygen and absorb 50 times more carbon dioxide than our atmosphere.

A majority of the world’s trade involves some form of marine transportation.

Meteorologically, the ocean transports heat from the equator to the poles, regulating our climate and weather patterns.

Also, the ocean provides more than just seafood; ingredients from the sea are found in surprising foods such as peanut butter and soymilk and wide research continues to glean deeper insights into the opportunities to add even more of the ocean’s bounty to already refined pharmaceutical, food, decorative and cosmetic uses.

This week saw the commemoration of World Oceans Day with the appropriately named theme of ‘One Ocean, One Climate, One Future – Together’ with a call to action that reminds us that we share this same ocean and must therefore work together to conserve its biodiversity and ensure a healthy climate into the future.

2022’s Conservation Action Focus is to protect at least 30% of Earth by 2030 or “30×30”.

Around the world and here in Fiji, the bulk of tourism activities rely on the ocean as the industry’s main drawcard and understand the ocean’s intrinsic value not just for business, but for all its recognised properties.

Whether it be the stressed-out professionals looking to relax by the beach with a cocktail or head out on a kayak or view the ocean’s biodiversity in glass-bottom boats to the more serious ocean goer who prefers to surf the gnarly waves or dive at exotic locales.

The ocean well and truly touches most of the tourism sector.

It is our responsibility to protect the ocean and it is a shared responsibility we must take far more seriously because the industry shares the ocean and all its maritime resources with commercial fishermen, the aquaculture industry, the maritime transport industry, communities and Governments.

While it often feels that what we’re doing is insufficient, may not be as effective or happening at the speed that we have no doubt it should have; we are consistently reminded that with a more concerted, collective effort by everyone doing all the little things right, we can eventually ensure we meet all those sustainability goals we constantly trot out at all the right times.

We know there should be far more dialogue with communities that rely on tourism in their areas and the sea for their food and transport.

They are our unofficial guardians of the sea as most of their livelihoods depend on whatever they can harvest from the waters so they must be empowered to stand up to any wrongdoing that they see happening.

UNWTO estimates that by 2050, 68% of the world population will live in urban areas, while 80% of those currently living in ‘extreme poverty’ will live outside of towns and cities.

But with Fiji’s communal living framework, we can ensure that estimation does not happen here by providing wider awareness, more focused education and better-placed monitoring and enforcement for protecting these resources that managed wisely will continue to provide their bounty to the island nations like ours.

Tourism is considered a lifeline, offering workers a chance to earn a living where they live, or get a skill and use it to travel further for a richer experience.

As a Pacific Island destination, Fiji deserves to be on top of travellers’ wish lists and it’s in our hands to show them how right they were to choose us. But only if we look after these resources through sustainability practices that become a part of our everyday lives.

Because we see it so often, we usually take the sea for granted.

Embarrassingly large volumes of rubbish continue to find their way from the internal waterways via streams and rivers out to our open waters. Inconsiderate shipping companies break reefs and allow vessels to sink in plain sight of our towns and cities, further fowling the waters and delicate ecosystems below the water.

Educated people continue to toss rubbish out of cars cruising our seawalls and ocean frontage and children follow their lead by ignoring “no litter” signs.

The resulting onslaught of waste getting dumped into the oceans is slowly suffocating the ocean by killing off millions of organisms and marine stock as well as poisoning the water with toxins.

While slowly but surely reducing even further the critical carbon stock that protects the earth and all living things.

So what can you do to help; each of us has a role in this.

We must continue protecting and conserving those marine species and habitats that are especially threatened.

We must practice sustainably using resources so that we can continue to reap the benefit of these resources well into the future.

Disposing of our rubbish in more sustainable ways like recycling and repurposing as often as possible, ensuring our vessels are always sea-worthy and not leaking fuel into the sea and making sure that our diving and surfing visitors are not harming the marine ecology but enjoying its beauty and bounty and leaving it intact for others.

Small but effective ways we can all contribute.

We must protect our little patch of ocean paradise and keep it safe.

If not for us, then for the future generations.

It is our collective responsibility.

By: Fantasha Lockington – CEO, FHTA (Published in the Fiji Times on 9 June 2022)