As you may have noticed, I like to share articles about Pacific Islands culture. These will include information about history, festivals, art exhibitions, language and anything else that I can find that contributes to the cultural heritage of the islands in the region. But there is another factor that has helped shape the Pacific Islanders’ identities since they first landed on all the islands thousands of years ago that doesn’t get talked about enough- the ocean.
Scientifically, the ocean plays a fundamental role in shaping the climate zones we see on land. Even areas hundreds of miles away from any coastline are still largely influenced by the global ocean system. Culturally, the ocean has dictated options for clothing, shelter and food.
The Pacific Islands are home to the world’s most diverse range of indigenous cultures that continue to sustain many ancestral ways of life. Spread across a vast expanse of ocean, Pacific Island peoples occupy an array of environments, from Papua New Guinea’s massive mountains to the atolls and lagoons of Polynesia to Auckland New Zealand’s urban jungles. With the ocean being affected by climate change and over fishing, Pacific Island culture will most likely experience another change in the near future.
Recently the President of Palau, Tommy Remengesau, stated that he believes that the ocean is a way of life- it represents culture, and is vital to our livelihood and economy. Remengesau has led the world in protecting the ocean. Under his administration, Palau is now a marine sanctuary where all commercial fishing is prohibited. In 2009, his predecessor, Johnson Toribiong, declared the country’s territorial waters a shark sanctuary. Since that time, other countries followed suit and have created their shark sanctuaries, including other Pacific Islands such as the Marshall Islands and French Polynesia.
Dr. Rick Stafford from the Department of Life and Environmental Sciences at Bournemouth University in England has done extensive research particularly in the areas of over fishing and shark finning and how these activities may result in more greenhouse gasses and increased climate change. He believes that negative media reports on shark attacks, along with a lack of knowledge of marine ecosystems, have resulted in limited public support for marine conservation. Dr. Stafford said: “We hope that our study will help people understand the importance of the marine environment — and that protecting it can have important effects on seemingly unrelated processes such as climate change.”
For his part, President Remengesau said the health of oceans affects countries in a variety of ways, from rising sea levels to ocean acidification and unpredictable weather. “It doesn’t matter where one lives around the world,” he added. “All people are connected and are impacted by what they do to the oceans and the health of the oceans and the seas. It is important that the United Nations in the next Millennium Development Goals should really put a stand-alone policy into action.”