Our Ocean conference: more than 80 countries to be represented

The Our Ocean Conference opens in Palau this week and more than 500 delegates from upwards of 80 countries are expected to attend.

The Republic of Palau and the United States are co-hosting the conference, which is seen as a key event for countries, civil society, and industry to commit to concrete and significant actions to protect the ocean.

This is the seventh year of the conference and the very first time it has been held in the Pacific region.

Palau’s lead for Our Ocean said it’s been a challenging few weeks but he feels everything is falling into place ahead of Wednesday’s opening.

The conference has been delayed a couple of times because of the global pandemic.

Bridge Thomas said holding the conference in the Pacific is hugely significant.

“It’s an opportunity for our guests to see the challenges that small island developing states… like Palau and other Islands countries around the world face in the face of climate change”


The conference is being held at Koror, in Palau. Photo: RNZ Pacific

Thomas said he is proud the Palauan culture will be a feature at the conference.

“I think the most beautiful aspect of this country is our culture, and that is its people. We are a very hospitable people and we hope that everybody experiences a glimpse of our culture, our people and they take away the best from Palau when they return home.”

New Zealand’s Minister for Pacific Peoples and Associate Minister of Foreign Affairs Aupito William Sio is representing the New Zealand government at the conference.

The US Ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland said there are a lot of ‘firsts’ in this conference.

“It’s the first; the first time that Our Ocean conference will be held in the Pacific, the first time it will be held by an island nation, the first time it is being co-hosted by the United States and the Republic of Palau. I think it’s the perfect example of partnership, of coming together in the Pacific way.”

Hennessey-Niland said despite the previous postponements because of Covid-19 both nations are determined to make sure the event does take place.

“We are going to have over 80 nations represented here in Koror this week, I think over 150 NGOs represented as well. It is an opportunity for dialogue, for discussion, and I think that’s particularly appropriate in the Pacific, it is the Pacific way and it is a priority.”

The United States Ambassador to Palau John Hennessey-Niland

The United States Ambassador to Palau, John Hennessey-Niland. Photo: RNZ Pacific

Our Ocean initiator the former US Secretary of State John Kerry leads the US delegation in Palau.

“It’s perfect that Mr Kerry is now coming to Palau to co-host with President Whipps, to have a conversation and more than that, to announce new commitments,” Hennessey-Niland said.

The publisher of Palau’s Island Times believes holding the event in the country is timely as there are so many issues now relating to oceans.

“And I think not only to us as the Republic of Palau but for us as a Pacific country to bring attention to the oceans and what we see every day that maybe many countries don’t understand,” Leilani Reklai said.

The publisher of the Island Times - Leilani Reklai

The publisher of Island Times, Leilani Reklai. Photo: Pacific Islands Forum

During this conference, the Island Times has launched a new daily Pacific media briefing on the conference.

Reklai said that locally we have been more focussed on what’s inshore and the immediate impact on our lives.

“But I think more than ever we are starting to see that looking at the bigger ocean, looking at what your neighbours are doing in their oceans with the policies around not only the region but the world regarding the ocean has an impact on our daily lives.”

For example, she said, we are looking at an inundation of plastic trash in our waters and we know we are not the ones putting the plastic out there but it’s affecting our marine life.

She said Palau is the best showcase example of what is happening elsewhere: “And I think what’s happening here in the oceans will be able to be reflected in other countries as well, especially our Pacific neighbours.”

The conference will be opened on Wednesday by Palau’s president Surangel Whipps Jr and the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry.

RNZ Pacific’s manager Moera Tuilaepa-Taylor is covering the conference in Palau. Her trip was made possible by the US State Department.