Stewards of our Blue Pacific: Pacific Early Career Ocean Professionals
“We are ocean people, birthed by our mother, the one Blue Pacific Ocean that connects us.”
On June 1 ,2021 the world celebrated a Virtual Early Career Ocean Professional (V. ECOP) Day facilitated and hosted by Early Career Professionals from around the globe and from a variety of ocean disciplines, to showcase their work and activities as part of their contributions to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development.
The UN Ocean Decade is the first global campaign to ensure that ocean science can fully support countries’ actions to sustainably manage the Oceans and more importantly, to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Early Career Ocean Professionals (ECOPs) are an important focus of the Decade and their contributions through the Decade actions and active participation are critical for exploring what’s next in this dynamic field.
In the Pacific four young stewards of the Blue Pacific, Pacific Early Career Professionals, Kushaal Raj, Lysa Wini, Nicole Yamase, and Fiafia Rex were brought together by the Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science (PCCOS) to have a virtual conversation about the future we want for our Blue Pacific Ocean. For 40 minutes these young professionals of the Blue Pacific captivated their audience with their stories, taking them on a journey into their work, experiences, and contributions toward a healthy Blue Pacific Ocean.
Fiafia Rex a Research Community Officer for USP, Niue under the GCCA+SUPA project, made a strong call to action calling on custodians of the blue pacific, “Protect our Future. Be that strong voice for our ocean and resources that are without”.
As stewards of our Blue Pacific, Pacific Early Career Professionals are an integral part of our collective resolve to manage the Pacific Ocean. They contribute to ocean science, ocean governance, marine conservation and many more, raising important (and often neglected) concerns. They bring energy, talent and diverse voices to leadership and advisory roles in ocean management.
“In order to ensure that the ocean continues to provide for our future generations, we must work together holistically to govern and sustainably use these spaces” said Kushaal Raj, Acting Manager Climate Change and Ocean Specialist with the Government of Fiji.
Today our Ocean is under pressure from multiple stressors that include mineral extraction, energy generation, transportation all exacerbated by climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution.
“Understanding how marine plants respond to different environmental stressors will help us develop strategies to secure our livelihoods” a message amplified by Nicole Yamase, PhD Candidate, in the Marine Biology Graduate Program at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the first Pacific Islander, the third woman, and, at 29, the second-youngest person to visit Challenger Deep, the deepest known part of the Mariana Trench.
Lysa Wini, a PhD Researcher at the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance (SCELG) in Glasgow and works as the Sky Islands Coordinator for Islands and Oceans shared her experiences working with other young professionals on marine spatial planning in the Solomon Islands. Lysa grew up in the Solomon Islands where its people still thrive within the realm of ‘customary laws'. She finds empowerment in her work affirming, “I’m a guardian of this vast Pacific Ocean we call home. It is my responsibility to contribute the traditions of my ancestors and teach my children that we are deeply connected to the ocean, it is our identity, our home, and our responsibility to ensure it sustains us now and into the future”.
‘“I’m inspired by the Pacific stewards of our Blue Pacific. From the technical to the creative, from advocating to implementing, they remind us of our collective responsibility to be the custodians our ocean needs” said Merewalesi Nailatikau who moderated the Pacific Early Career Ocean Professionals live discussions.
The event closed with the panellists joining a larger group of participants from around the globe for a Question-and-Answer session with the global V.ECOP program moderators. It was a great opportunity for young professionals to showcase their work and their deep connection to the ocean including their indigenous knowledge of the ocean passed down through millennia. This deep connection is reflected in the words of a Pacific ECOP shared online, ‘The ocean is us, we are the ocean, and we are all in this together.’