Focus on: South Pacific

In this series we introduce some of the recent development made in different countries. This month we bring you news from Fiji and Solomon Islands.

The South Pacific team has a lot to be excited about. The team has progressed to the final identification of the research sites in Fiji and the Solomon Islands after developing comprehensive criteria for inclusion. They are currently working with key stakeholders to finalise target research site locations in both countries, which will enable research to begin grounded in the local context, and led by community needs. This work is challenged by the current restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Quarantine measures are strictly adhered to in Fiji. The tourism, fishing, sugar, copra and timber industries along with small and local businesses have declined in productivity with the closure of borders. A vast number of the population has been living below or near the poverty line. The Solomon Islands has also closed its borders, and this has added to the challenges of travel and conducting research”, says Payal Maharaj.

The Pacific team did adapt to the unpresented situation quickly, for example by widening the team and welcoming Dr Transform Aqorau, visiting Professor for Ocean Studies at the Solomon Islands National University (SINU), to the Hub to lead stakeholder engagement work in the Solomon Islands, whilst the rest of the team cannot travel.

Through the work of Dr Aqorau in the Solomon Islands, the research team at the University of the South Pacific (USP) are now looking forward to working directly with communities to understand their perspectives.

“We look forward to understanding more about how ocean communities see and describe themselves – beyond the words used to describe them by international agencies such as ‘vulnerable’ and ‘at risk’. The project provides significant privilege in permitting time and resources to engage in such challenging research in a development context”, says Prof Jeremy Hills.

Photo credit: Payal Maharaj

Casting nets wide: Reaching out to policymakers and children

The team is anticipating to work with Dr Katy Soapi, who was recently featured by the World Bank as an Innovator Protect Our Oceans in the Solomon Islands, and may return to the team as Senior Research Fellow and Research Coordinator for Fiji and Solomon Islands (subject to a work permit being granted from the Fiji government).

Following recent meetings with the Ministry of Education, Fiji, the team is preparing to work with three primary schools in Fiji to develop an ocean literacy programme as part of the Hub’s Ocean Explorers schools initiative.

The team are particularly excited about this initiative, as the Government of Fiji is in the process of developing new national policy in this regard, as part of the Blue Pacific Narrative. In keeping with the transdisciplinary approach to research in the region, the team will begin developing a holistic programme of ocean literacy in schools.

“We will be weaving in activities such as dance and stories in Ocean Literacy”, says Prof. Ann Cheryl Armstrong.

The past months have given the team the chance to further strengthen and cultivate partnerships on various fronts particularly with the Fiji Ministry of Fisheries and the Fiji Women in Fisheries Network. Despite less face-to-face time, online meetings and working groups have allowed the team to continue to develop various projects. One of the partnerships that excites the team is the work planned with Dr Transform Aqorau, who is an expert in Solomon Islands ways of being, knowing and doing with regards to ocean communities and livelihoods.

The team has been also been engaging with the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner (OPCOC) (Project Partners in the One Ocean Hub) deepening their partnership through contributions to the “State of the Pacific Ocean Report” of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner. They are also working on a regional and national policy analysis with Hub partners Prof Pierre Mazzega (CNRS, University Jean Jaurès, France) and Dr Claire Lajaunie (INSERM, University Aix-Marseille, France).

Furthermore, the team have been actively contributing to a number of other development initiatives across the region outside the Hub, including: a bottom-up assessment on the relevance of the Blue Economy with Oxfam (Pacific) under the Raising Pacific Voices Programme (EU supported); development of a ocean sustainability benchmarking system for 14 Pacific island countries (supported by ADB); and participation in the Floating Budget Office of UNDP providing budget scrutiny to national parliamentarians in the Pacific and promoting inclusion of civil society.

Photo credit: Payal Maharaj

New research publication

Dr Gilianne Brodie, Dr Katy Soapi, and Prof Jeremy Hills have all been engaged in a long-standing initiative on Seasgrasses and seagrass habitats in the Pacific islands, and are delighted to share the latest 1publication on this work which explores the potential impacts and  loss of seagrass habitat as a result of human activities and climate change. Access the full article here.

Further reading

And finally, here is a list of recent development in terms of legislation and political decisions and public debate concerning ocean issues in Fiji and the Solomon Islands, that the team would like to share with the rest of the Hub members.

  1. Covid-19 and tuna fisheries in the Pacific – Dr Transform Aqorau has published an update with implications and insights for Pacific Development, find link here.
  2. Ocean issues and the office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, a working paper  prepared by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, find link here.
  3. Fiji’s Ministry of Economy has almost completed the Fiji’s first National Ocean Policy (NOP) and will seek Government’s approval, find link here.
  4. Prime Minister of Fiji Hon. Frank Bainimarama’s speech at the Virtual Island Summit 2020- (09-09-2020), find link here.