This piece comes to us from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). To honor Asian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, WCS and Nature are bringing you nine stories in the fields of nature and conservation.

WCS Fiji Country Director Sangeeta Mangubhai at work. Photo credit: Emily Darling/WCS

Though there have been bright spots, coastal communities that rely on the ocean economy have been hit hard over the last year by the global COVID-19 pandemic. In Fiji, these challenges were exacerbated by severe tropical cyclones that damaged homes, farms, infrastructure, and fishing gear essential for coastal communities.

As the first vaccines begin to roll out globally and nations plan their economic recovery, many— including the Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), the Pope, and 350 health organizations—are calling for a “green” COVID recovery that prioritizes tackling climate change. However, 2021 also marks the start of the UN’s Decade on Ocean Science.

The timing is perfect for countries to go beyond a “green” recovery to design a way forward that also prioritizes the world’s “blue economy,” sustainably using ocean resources for economic growth while still protecting marine ecosystems.

A vibrant reef in Fiji’s Vatu-i-Ra marine conservation park. Photo credit: ©Tom Vieru

Earlier this year, Fiji stepped up with an ambitious National Ocean Policy that shows how countries stand to benefit when they prioritize the protection of the ocean and the creation of a blue economy. Now it’s time for other countries to take note and follow suit.

Fiji is a “large ocean state.” Made up of over 300 islands, the Pacific Island nation is 98.6 percent ocean and home to more than 700 miles of coastline, incredible marine biodiversity, and countless coral reefs. The ocean is core to the cultural heritage of Fijians, and managing these waters responsibly is critical for maintaining the food security, livelihoods, and cultural practices of hundreds of thousands of people.

Fiji’s new National Ocean Policy recognizes that we need a healthy ocean to sustain the lives of current and future generations. To achieve this bold vision, Fiji has outlined seven interlinked goals focused around cooperation, sustainability, security, development, knowledge, advocacy, and putting people first. The last, people-centric goal promotes the key principles of equity and inclusivity that are vital to ensuring human well-being and thriving cultures.

A coastal village in Fiji where WCS works with community members to implement watershed conservation measures. Photo credit: Emily Darling/WCS

The government has also laid out the country’s commitment to sustainably managing Fiji’s entire Exclusive Economic Zone (the area of ocean that Fiji has rights and responsibilities for), including designating 30 percent of their waters as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) by 2030.

The National Ocean Policy is the latest in a string of future-looking commitments from countries around the world that show how doubling down on ocean conservation can bring nations tremendous economic opportunities. As we look toward a post-COVID economic recovery, now is the time to maintain this marine conservation momentum

It will be critical to ensure that equity and inclusivity are foundational elements of Fiji’s efforts to achieve its policy goals. Fair and transparent processes that engage all Fijians, especially women, youth, and marginalized groups, will be core to the success of the country’s ocean conservation efforts. Such processes should build on the knowledge of Indigenous peoples and local communities, blending and interweaving traditional and modern approaches, and making sure we stay true to our values as Fijians.

Fiji is a “large ocean state”, the Pacific Island nation is 98.6 percent ocean and home to some of the world’s climate resilient coral reefs. Photo credit: ©Tom Vierus

Work by WCS and partners has highlighted the importance of engaging women in particular given the unique knowledge they have on natural resources and the roles they play in food security.

We know that this effort will be herculean and require a wide variety of tools. Managing the ocean well means adopting an array of science-backed approaches and policies that look at the ocean holistically. Bold commitments like Fiji’s new Ocean Policy must be followed up with equally bold and swift implementation.

Countries aren’t in this alone. Multi-stakeholder partnerships like Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Vibrant Oceans Initiative (VOI) bring together philanthropic funding, NGOs, and other institutions to support government partners in rolling out the plans and projects needed to make good on ocean conservation commitments. With the adoption of Fiji’s new policy, the Vibrant Oceans Initiative is supporting high-impact, science-backed marine conservation.

Fijian women sell fish at a local market. Photo credit: Emily Darling/WCS

The ocean generates an estimated 3-6 trillion in economic value for the world each year, and over 3 billion people around the world rely on marine resources every day for nutrition and livelihoods. Fisheries and coastal communities are a cornerstone of the global economy. Worldwide efforts to rebound from COVID-19 represent a crossroads. We have an opportunity, now, to build back better through the creation of a new blue economy.

Fiji’s National Ocean Policy is an excellent first step, and we have a unique opportunity to show the world what holistic and responsible ocean stewardship looks like so that it can provide services for Fijians for many generations to come. One country cannot do this alone and I hope other countries will also be just as committed to protecting the ocean that connects us all.

The post Why Fiji’s ‘Green’ Recovery From Covid-19 Must Prioritize the Ocean appeared first on Nature.

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