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March 28, 2023

UN’s Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development

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ORI flagship Research Expedition Vessel, ‘La Boheme’ to be based in Ballina. Photo ORI.

Local research duo Professor Jennifer Gidley and Earle de Blonville have just come back from the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, 2021-2030 conference in Nouméa, New Caledonia.

Jennifer and Earle who are partners at the Oceanic Research Institute (ORI), participated in the Pacific Community Workshop at the invitation of UNESCO’s Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC).

The IOC’s Executive Secretary – and UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General, Dr Vladimir Ryabinin, an oceanographer and climatologist, attended the Pacific Community Workshop to provide valuable guidance and inspiration.

IOC Executive Secretary, Dr Vladimir Ryabinin with Professor Jennifer Gidley and Earle de Blonville in Noumea. Photo ORI.

Held at the Pacific Community (SPC) headquarters in Nouméa, the workshop hosted about 100 participants from the South Pacific region.

The event focussed on six main societal outcomes: a clean ocean, a healthy and resilient ocean, a predicted ocean, a safe ocean, a sustainably harvested and productive ocean, and a transparent and accessible ocean.

ORI participated in both the Pacific Community media workshop and the main UN Decade workshop over a four-day period, and held meetings with key leaders and officials over three additional days.

The overarching concern

The overarching concern for the group is the reality is that each Pacific nation is in a different situation, and has to deal with different problems.

‘Kiribati is already going under and has lost several islands,’ says Earle. ‘They are slowly losing everything they need to survive.

‘Fiji has mountainous islands and is safer because of it, but its economy would be devastated with another major storm. And with the Ocean fast heating up, this will mean storms of greater intensity.’

Earle says the group had a positive outlook for the future. ‘The Pacific nations realise that they are of the Ocean, understand the Ocean, and can act globally to save their homes,’ he said.

‘They also realise that their “large neighbours” have failed them, and the global environment, by refusing to give up coal.

‘We all know who the “large neighbours” really are.

‘The Pacific nation now have a realistic outlook and a very strong voice.’

A unique and valuable role

ORI says they will have a unique and valuable role during the UN Decade of Ocean Science, operating the only long-range research fleet in the South Pacific. NSW does not have any oceangoing research vessels or any offshore research capacity. As an independent organisation and an Australian Government Approved Research Institute, ORI is the only such organisation in Australia.

ORI Directors Professor Jennifer Gidley and Earle de Blonville at the UN Decade of Ocean Science Pacific Community Workshop in NoumeaPhoto ORI.

ORI, based in Ballina-Byron area, operates globally in under-researched and climate-sensitive regions, plan to field a fleet of three Research Expedition Vessels (REVs), traditional wooden sailing vessels specially adapted to Pacific conditions. The fleet will be based in Ballina, and outside the Pacific’s six month ‘safe season’ will undertake research voyages closer to home, including offering school students the experience of Science Under Sail.

Earle says there will need to be many more meetings with the individual nations to build relationships and scope out the science programs.

‘Our research expeditions, run over the UN Decade for Ocean Science, will mean close collaboration with many stakeholders.

‘The fact that we will have the only long ranger research fleet in the Pacific means we will be extremely busy.

This is why we are asking for major funding support to enable this consultative process to be undertaken before the UN Decade begins.’

Jennifer and Earle say ORI’s role in the UN Decade of Ocean Science, collaborating with Pacific nations while representing Australia, is expected to bring inward investment and sustainable employment opportunities to the Northern Rivers, and make this region Australia’s Pacific Hub for Ocean Research and help develop the new industry of Science Tourism.

The pair say they came away with a powerful feeling of respect for the intelligence, professionalism, commitment and strength of the Pacific islanders. ‘Tony Abbott’s famous patronising and racist putdown of them, indicating he viewed them as poor helpless natives, misses the point,’ says Earle.

‘These people are in fact a decade ahead of Australia in awareness and have extremely good leadership. Our belief is that the world will soon see them as the ocean leaders and Australia will be left behind.

‘They see themselves as fighting for their very existence with Australia fighting to avoid responsibility.

‘Unlike Australia, there are no climate deniers in the Pacific. Denial is the mask of fear of change, a middle-class position. The Pacific islanders are not people who are afraid’.

To find out more about ORI, visit their website.

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  1. The Pacific Islanders have always been
    aware. Australia needs to take off the
    blinkers this country’s worn for decades
    while pocketing profits at the expense
    of others. Forget coal & gas? Forget
    man & woman kind!


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