Samoa hands over baton at Noumea Convention meeting

Marine protection and pollution were high on the agenda of a meeting of the 15th Noumea Convention on Thursday as Samoa passed the baton of its custodianship over the legal body with oversight of environmental management and development of natural resources in the Pacific.

Samoa handed over its chair of the Convention, which it has overseen since 2017, to Papua New Guinea in Apia on Thursday.

“I think there a lot of issues that countries will need to work on,” said Veari Kula, from Papua New Guinea’s Ministry of Environment and Conservation.

“As the chair we will be trying to encourage countries to take opportunities to seek support and assistance to address these issues, and the secretariat can help us to address these issues at the national level.”

Assistant Chief Executive Officer of Environment and Conservation, Seumalo Afele Faiilagi, said as stewards of the world’s largest ocean, Pacific Islands have charge over great resources, but equally many challenges.

“A lot has been done with limited resources and funding, and of course, lot more still has to be done,” he said. 

As the outgoing chair, Samoa’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment has seen three major oil spills in the region from damaged or grounded container ships. 

Container vessel MV Southern Phoenix sank in Suva Harbour in Fiji in May 2017 and was finally salvaged in May 2019.

Two months later, in July 2017, the MV Kea Trader was grounded in Noumea, and was not able to be salvaged because of bad weather. Salvors had to remove 1,009 cubic metres of heavy fuel oils and diesels, as well as 4000 tonnes of other materials.

This year, the MV Solomon Trader was grounded on Rennel Island in the Solomon Islands during Cyclone Oma in February, and leaked at least a 100 tonnes of oil onto the world heritage site.

Rennell is the largest raised coral atoll in the world.

Seumalo said implementing the legally binding Convention helped address the spills and take urgent action.

Under the agreement, the region adopted an eight year Pacific Regional Marine Litter Action Plan last year, which will expire in 2025.

Eight Pacific countries have banned ‘non-essential’ single use plastic items and eight more countries have plans in the pipeline to ban products. 

Samoa will see phase two of its ban on polluting products, with a ban on Styrofoam products in 2020.

Secretariat of the Regional Environment Program (S.P.R.E.P) Director of Waste Management, Dr. Vicki Hall, said the Pacific has been leading the world in addressing plastic waste and marine pollution.

“We have got a long way to go but we really are leading and showing the world what can be done in waste pollution,” Dr. Hall said.

“A lot of countries have a container deposit levy legislation to promote recycling, and if they don’t have it they are progressing and working towards that.”

She said the region’s models for success are “absolutely scalable” to other, larger nations who could follow suit. 

The Pacific’s size and geography make it unique in its ability to address pollution. 

“We don’t have large populations, we don’t have large volumes of waste and everything accumulates. With climate change nd sea level rise there is limited land to dispose of that rubbish in landfills.

“We really do need to move towards a circular economy, and look at using our resources much more effectively. 

The convention also falls under the United Nations Environment Program’s Regional Seas Programme. 

Head of the Pacific Sub-regional Office, Sefanaia Nawadra said he is encouraged by a desire in the room to “relook” at the convention.

It is wide-ranging and much of the work is covered by regional organisations under different programs , so it can be difficult to report on implementation.

Mr. Nawadra said streamlining that process needs to be improved, especially to avoid doubling up on projects.

And human capacity needs to be continually improved to address the region’s high turnover of staff on environmental projects.

“It needs to be a continual process of getting people trained up all the time because there are always new people coming on board and existing people leaving to go to do other things,” he said.

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