Most countries are putting in a serious effort despite their limited resources but that does not mean that the problem is solved.
Presenter: Jemima Garrett
Speaker: David Sheppard, Director of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program
SHEPPARD: The Pacific still has the highest rates of species extinction in the world, particularly for bird species. So that's a real worry. But we've seen in the last ten years a number of quite innovative approaches to conservation, particularly those that involve local communities, such as locally managed marine areas of which there are a number throughout the Pacific. We've seen very strong commitments by island leaders, including by the leaders of Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Palau, to protect, to identify sanctuaries for sharks and other marine species. So we've seen some very positive initiatives, but we still have the fundamental challenges, often compounded in the Pacific by very small land masses. And the serious impact of issues like invasive species. So these are challenges. We will take stock at a meeting in December this year. Every five years in the Pacific going back to 1979 we've had the Nature Conservation Congress. So we'll be taking stock of what's working, what's not, what's the way forward at that December meeting as well.
GARRETT: What sort of progress has been made with birds, because some of the big international non-government organisations have got involved in that haven't they?
SHEPPARD: Certainly SPREP has welcomed the involvement of the large NGOs and in particular relating to birds, Bird Life International does a great job, as do other NGOs in the region, like the Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, RUCN and others. So the role that they all play is very important. And what we're seeing is some success stories in birds, but in general there is still that overarching loss of species which is of concern.
GARRETT: Are there particular wins that you can point to that you've seen since you've been leading SPREP?
SHEPPARD: I think if we look back, about ten years ago a major biodiversity GEF, Global Environment Facility project, so a number of those projects have continued. And in some cases such as the Rarotonga Fly Catcher, a very rare and unique bird species in the Cook Islands. We've seen quite significant success stories. Also a number of bird species as an example in French Polynesia we have seen where they work is where there is a government commitment, often backed up and complimentary with NGO involvement, and also external funding. So where you can have a combination of these factors, fundamental of which is the government commitment, we can see successes.
GARRETT: All countries are meant to have a national biodiversity strategic action plan. That's quite a complicated process. What does it take exactly to prepare one of those plans?
SHEPPARD: That's a requirement under the Biodiversity Convention. Most Pacific countries have it, SPREP works closely with countries in developing these plans, NBSAPs for short. Basically they involve an assessment of existing biodiversity, secondly an assessment of threats now and in the future, and thirdly identification of actions, which could include protected areas, they could include conservation agreements with local communities. And we are seeing countries having the NBSAPs and then action. So the Solomon Islands for example recently developed their new protected area legislation. So we see these as very important, but they do need to be backed up with capacity and with resourcing, and SPREP certainly supports that working with the countries.
GARRETT: Plans do have a tendency in some cases to sit on the shelf rather than be implemented, and particularly when budgets are tight it's difficult. Just how are the Pacific countries going in implementing those plans?
SHEPPARD: I think it's variable, I think in all cases there is a commitment. The actual realisation of the plans is as I mentioned constrained by resources. I think all countries we can see some results, but it's certainly not as much as the countries would like or SPREP would like, but at least we have a direction that we're heading for.
GARRETT: There's been a growing trend in Australia certainly for volunteers to get involved in these sorts of biodiversity issues, particularly when a species is identified that's quite charismatic. Is there potential in the Pacific for more of that sort of thing?
SHEPPARD: There's certainly potential, and the NGO involvement that I mentioned often they're working very closely with local communities, with volunteers which can come from a range of different areas. So the role of all sectors working together is fundamental, it's not a responsibility of government alone, NGO alone or volunteers alone, it's the issue is to work together. And that's what's so important with the NBSAP framework, because it provides a framework for working together, and a clear direction forward for each country.
GARRETT: Getting inspired is as you say obviously crucial. In Solomon Islands recently we've seen the Prime Minister's roundtable on sustainable development. Now that was a move designed to consult and inform the whole community as Solomons looks to expand mining. How much potential do you see for innovative processes like that?
SHEPPARD: I think that type of process was excellent. What was excellent about it was that it was obviously led from the top down, so it wasn't a particular sector; forestry, minerals taking the lead, it was leadership from the top. And it also brought in a whole range of stakeholders; the communities, the provinces, the state government agency, the national government agencies in the Solomon Islands. And it focussed on key areas. What is always needed as you say with plans is to make sure that they are implemented, and that's equally important in the Solomons as in any country. Also the roundtable process was backed up by another exercise in the Choiseul province, one of the provinces in the Solomon Islands where all the development partners, key regional agencies such as SPREP, SPC, agreed to pool our resources to address the issue of climate change, with particular emphasis on what we call ecosystem-based adaptation. So that by protecting coastal mangrove forests we can really make a difference in terms of mitigating effects of sea level rise, extreme weather events, etc. So Prime Minister-type roundtable also have to be backed up by actions on the ground, such as in Choiseul.