Remarks by Dr Andrew Jones, Director Geoscience, Energy and Maritime (GEM) Division SPC at the opening of the 20th Maritime Boundaries Working Session: securing our Blue Pacific region for future generations 

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Ni sa bula Vinaka and good morning colleagues and friends. 

Our last time together as a community of practice was in November 2019 at the 19th Maritime Boundaries Working Session. For a team like this one, who has met as colleagues and friends year after year without fail for so long, that is a long time. 

In some ways, it feels like the world has become a different place over that time. The global pandemic has certainly changed all of our work dramatically. We understand that for many of you, national responsibilities have multiplied alongside international engagements and virtual meetings in the middle of the night. 

We are all ‘ZOOMed’ out and yet you are here today. For that I want to thank each and every one of you.  

Your presence here today is a reflection of what hasn’t changed over the last two years, your dedication to this critical work. Your commitment to this ongoing community of practice. And your support to fulfilling the Leaders’ vision of securing the Blue Pacific for generations to come.  

Pacific island countries, together with Australia and New Zealand, are the custodians of 30% of global exclusive economic zones, comprising more than 42 million square kilometres of oceanspace.  

You know better than anyone, that to secure and optimise the management, use, and conservation of the Blue Pacific, countries require certainty over their maritime zones. 

You also know, as does everyone who has been involved in this work over the past 20 years, the process of delimiting, negotiating, and declaring maritime limits and zones is not always easy or straight forward. It can be technically dense and politically challenging.  

Where there have been successes, it has been largely due to the persistence of national champions who have picked up and driven the work. Many of those champions are here in this virtual room.  And increasingly, those successes, your successes, are gaining recognition not only on the regional stage but on the global stage. 

The priority action to implement the United Nations Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and settle maritime zone limits is recognised internationally in SDG Target 14.C, and is echoed in numerous regional statements, including the Framework for a Pacific Oceanscape. 

As a region, the Pacific is a world leader in the percentage of maritime boundaries concluded, and last month, Pacific Island Forum Leaders issued the landmark Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate Change-related Sea-Level rise which is now gaining traction at the United Nations General Assembly. 

Years from now, your successors will point at the significance of this moment, and this Normative Declaration, for the Pacific Islands. It’s one we can all be proud to bear witness to, and to have contributed toward, but our next steps are equally critical.  

I ask you to consider—what will your legacy and your contribution to this work be?  

Will you be one of those national champions who picked up and drove this work. Who helped define your country and your region. 

We still have significant work to accomplish before we can consider our Blue Pacific boundaries secure.  The declaration specifies Pacific Island Leaders intentions to maintain their maritime zones only after they are “established in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.”  But a number of countries have not yet established their maritime zones. 

There are 48 shared or overlapping boundaries between countries in the Pacific islands’ region. Of these, 35 have been successfully negotiated, but 13 remain to be agreed and signed.  

Five countries have yet to establish their EEZ high seas limits, and others are reviewing or updating existing legislation, baselines, and maritime zone limits. 

The 16 extended continental shelf claims across our region awaiting review by the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, are critical gaps in our Blue Pacific continent. Securing these areas and their resources will be critical in the years ahead.  

It is encouraging to see the increased attention to ocean governance by development partners, but even more so at the national level, where we now see 7 PICs have developed or are currently developing ocean policies. These will also no doubt be guided by maritime zones and limits. 

While there is much to celebrate, now is not the time to sit back and relax, but to roll up our sleeves and finish the job.  There will be a great opportunity to do this over the next six weeks of this virtual working session. 

SPC, and SOPAC before it, has been a key technical partner supporting your Pacific Island countries to delimit and deposit their maritime boundaries with the UN Division of Ocean Affairs and Law of the Sea since 2001. 

In collaboration with the consortium of partners, and with support from a range of donors, the Pacific Maritime Boundaries Programme is in a better position than ever to support your countries to complete this work. Please do not hesitate to reach out to my team, who will be with you over the next few weeks, with questions or requests to this end. 

At SPC, this work is being supported by our technical teams, including the Maritime Boundaries team many of you know well, and also by the Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science (PCCOS), which brings together expertise from across SPC’s technical divisions and across the region in support of ocean science for sustainable development. 

In closing, I’d like to recognise those of you in the broader team who are here with us as without you this work simply wouldn’t be possible. From the consortium of partners across Pacific agencies including the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner, and the Forum Fisheries Agency, to our regional experts and my old colleagues and friends at Geoscience Australia, the University of Sydney, the Commonwealth Secretariat and GRID Arendal, and finally and definitely not least, the donors and partners including the Government of Australia, Government of New Zealand, Government of Papua New Guinea, the UK Government through the British High Commission in Suva, and the European Union and Sweden through the Pacific European Union Marine Programme.  

We are just so very grateful for your support. Your gifts and your energies make this regional priority effort possible.  In closing I want to wish you all the best over the course of the next two days of meetings and the next six weeks of concentrated effort to progress outstanding work on securing our region’s maritime zones and limits. 

I look forward to joining you again in mid-November to hear the outcomes and lessons of your journey. 

Vinaka vakalevu.

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Fiji

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