As the new Office for Pacific Ocean Commissioner (OPOC) begins its transition away from the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) Secretariat, the regional ocean governance dialogue in Nadi this week has helped consolidate support for the mandate of the new office to be based in Palau.

Palau, the host government of the new OPOC office, represented by Minister for Environment, Steven Victor conveyed his government’s support – in line with the Suva Agreement by Pacific Islands Forum Leaders which endorsed the setting up of the OPOC office in Koror.

“As a Pacific region, we have demonstrated our enduring commitment in our stewardship of the ocean, and we will afford the same commitment to the Office of Pacific Ocean Commissioner, said Victor.

“As we welcome Dr Filimon Manoni and his team to Palau, we are committed to support OPOC in fulfilling its mandate under the Forum Leaders’ Suva Agreement. We bind ourselves to this same mandate–of working across multiple ocean sectors and at all levels of governance to add value to ocean policy and governance in the region.

Minister Victor cautioned the need to explore the independence of the office as an institution to allow it to grow and evolve to effectively coordinate support the region’s growing ocean and policy governance needs.

He urged member governments and the Pacific Ocean Alliance (POA) to show solidarity to each other and collaborate on ocean dialogues.

As the region moves the ocean agenda forward, the Palauan Minister reiterated the importance of ocean science that considers the diverse Pacific traditional knowledge of resource management to help guide and develop policy and governance mechanisms.

“We have the opportunity now with the new dedicated Pacific Ocean Commissioner whom we can expect to staunchly lead and coordinate this discourse with CROP agencies and partners as we continue to forge forward. However, OPOC as an institution will need to grow, evolve, and be shaped to continually engage, coordinate, and share our perspectives, experiences, and lessons, said Minister Victor

Pacific Ocean Commissioner, Dr Filimon Manoni, who assumed the new role three weeks ago recognise the immense responsibility he now holds to drive the regional ocean agenda – particularly taking over from very strong ocean champions like the Forum Secretary General, Henry Puna and former PIF leaders, Dame Meg Taylor and Neroni Slade, who pushed to make OPOC a reality,

“I am humbled to have been called to the helm to maneuver the oar of our Pacific Va’a – for those are indeed huge shoes to fill. But with all of your help, I look forward keenly to the great journey that lies ahead

“Let us feel free to exchange our views. Let us listen. Let us seek to understand different and sometimes divergent views. Let us consider ways to accommodate our varying interests. Let us be bold but in a respectful manner in pursuing our goals as a region. And together, let us identify how to make our regional ocean policy more effective, more coordinated, to serve our People most effectively, said Dr Manoni.

The UN Secretary General’s special envoy on Ocean, Ambassador Peter Thompson of Fiji is grateful that Pacific Islands have strong regional institutions that’s helped elevated oceans debate globally,

“The saying goes, smooth seas never a skilful sailor made, and our institutions have battled many a storm to get to where we are today. My great admiration for our regional institutions comes from close on two decades of working in Fiji’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, from a two- year secondment to SPEC (the predecessor of the Secretariat of the Pacific Island Forum), and from the perspective of one of the group of Pacific Ambassadors in New York who relied heavily on the advice of our regional institutions back home for our informed positions at the United Nations, said Ambassador Thompson.

“Now in my role as the UNSG’s Special Envoy for the Ocean, I rely on advice from multilateral and regional organisations from around the planet. We should be grateful here in the Pacific, for not only have our regional institutions stood the test of time and tide, but they continue to deliver collaborative solutions that serve the best interests of our region and thereby the world as a whole.

Ambassador Thompson said the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner holds a powerful position, speaking on behalf of the growing Pacific voices on the global stage.

“Many of our regional institutions have responsibilities relating directly to ocean issues – PIFS, SPC, FFA, SPREP, USP and more. But with the establishment of the Office of the Pacific Ocean Commissioner in Palau, and Dr Manoni’s assumption of office as the Commissioner, we are starting a new chapter. And it is a chapter that has huge implications for the understanding and advocacy of Pacific Ocean concerns and aspirations.

“We must enter this new chapter in the most positive of spirits, for the challenges ahead are like mighty swells bearing down upon us.”

“It behoves us all, the governments of the region and our regional institutions, not forgetting the multilateral organisations at global and Asia-Pacific levels, to give the Commissioner the space, the respect and the support his high office requires to fulfil the powerful potential of which I’ve spoken.

The UNSDG special envoy for the ocean pledged to support and assist the new Pacific Ocean Commissioner in his new role.

The weeklong regional dialogue on ocean governance in underway in Nadi.

This story was written by Makereta Komai, originally published at PACNEWS on 21 August 2023.

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