Pacific island nations to get more help on wetland conservation and wise use
Ramsar subregional office slated for Oceania
In ceremonies in Cairns, Australia, on 13 May 2004, the Ramsar Secretary General, Peter Bridgewater, announced the creation of a new outposted office of the Convention's Secretariat to be based in Apia, Samoa, and hosted by the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP). This new post will provide the Small Island States and Territories of the Oceania region with support for wetland conservation and management, as well as help in joining and implementing the Ramsar Convention.
The South Pacific region has long been a priority for the Ramsar Convention. While this region shelters many of the most endangered wetland ecosystems of the planet, including coral reefs, mangroves, seagrass meadows,and rare island wetlands, it is currently the most under-represented region within the Convention. Of the 138 countries that have joined the Ramsar Convention, only four of Oceania's 29 states are presently members, though three more countries are said to be in the process of joining the Convention soon.
An Assistant Programme Officer will soon be appointed to start building this new regional initiative, to be funded jointly by Ramsar, the governments of Australia and the USA, WWF International, and SPREP itself. The main priorities of the Oceania Regional Office will chiefly be to assist non-member countries to complete the process of joining the Convention and then to implement the Ramsar principles, in order to build a regional Ramsar network that will help to increase capacity and relationships. For the member countries, the Oceania Regional Office will work closely with Ramsar's partners in the region in implementing effectively Ramsar's message: the wise use principle.
"At last, we have all our regions covered by an advisory structure, which will help new parties to join us, and will help all parties to implement the Convention to the fullest", said Dr Bridgewater, highlighting also the growing central role of the Convention in the water and sustainable development debates. "We are very grateful for the generosity of the Australian government in supporting this initiative and to the US government and WWF International for topping up the funds to make it happen.".
Mary Power, SPREP's Coastal Management Officer, also welcomed the establishment of the position: "In recent years many Pacific Island Governments have recognized the potential benefits of Ramsar accession and site listing for biodiversity conservation and possibly also for drawing the attention of the international tourist market to areas of particular natural splendor in their countries, and have been considering accession but need assistance to progress this. The opportune establishment of the Ramsar Regional Office for Oceania within SPREP will greatly advance this."
Peter Bridgewater and Mary Power (SPREP), Cairns, May 2004
The Convention's Joint Work Plan with SPREP (due for renewal soon) can be seen at http://ramsar.org/key_sprep_jwp2002.htm, and a much more detailed press release by Sebastià Semene on the occasion of this new initiative, providing a good overview of Ramsar interests in the Oceania region, can be found in PDF format at http://ramsar.org/w.n.oceania_staff.pdf.
Australia's Minister of Environment and Heritage David Kemp and Secretary General Peter Bridgewater discussing the joint initiative for Ramsar in the Oceania region during the Commission on Sustainable Development meetings in New York, USA, April 2004.