Thank you Master of Ceremony
It is indeed a great honor to be amongst you this afternoon. As the Ulu o Tokelau and also the Minister responsible for the environment and natural resources the opportunity to attend this seminar for the first time was too good to miss. I am excited with the initiative for indigenous leaders to present, talk and discuss how knowledge sharing and exchange in our communities improve land and sea conservation management and create broader social and economic benefits.
As some of you may be aware, Tokelau consists of 3 low lying atolls very isolated from the rest of the world. The only way you can travel to Tokelau is by ship, from Samoa and the trip to the most southern of our atolls takes between 24 – 30 hours depending on the weather. Tokelau’s ecosystem is a delicate and fragile. The land area is only 12 square kilometres with a total of approximately 319,000 square kilometres of its exclusive economic zone. At no point does the land rise more than 5metres above sea level. Being overwhelmingly surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, the atolls are very susceptible to the impacts of climate change and sea level raising. This is a major concern for Tokelau and we stand to lose not just our land and environs but our culture and traditions which affirm the identity of our people.
At this juncture, it is appropriate that Tokelau acknowledges the generous assistance from the Governments of New Zealand and Australia for the adaptation funds that have come though as our current political status limits our eligibility to access global funds.
Tokelau’s traditional and cultural practises focus on taking care of her people, her land, and her oceans. As in the case of most indigenous communities around the globe, the conservation of the land and oceans is very much an intricate component of a community’s survival. While the land provides a limited supply of nutrition for our people the sea continues to be a substantial part of our life. Hence, our way of life, our songs and dances strongly conveys our relationship with the sea. I will now describe some of the traditional conservation measures that we to sustain our way of life.
The most important conservation measure is the ‘lafu’ system whereby all types of fishing are banned in specific areas of the main reef. An example would be prohibiting activity on the entire windward reef shortly after the bi-annual change in the direction of the prevailing wind. The decision to establish a lafuis made by the Council of Elders of the particular village. An attempt is made to define the geographic area in such a way that no family will suffer disproportionate amount of hardship by the ban. Although the lafuis established for reasons other than a reduced abundance of a particular species, it is generally agreed that it results in a substantial increase in the availability of marine resources in that area. To assure marine foods will be plentiful at an important festival, fishing may be banned from a section of the reef until just prior to the event.
Other marine conservation measures include:
Our people feel that traditional conservation system has served them well over the centuries. They are also aware, however, due to market demands and population pressure of the need for modification of the system to reflect recent changes. This requires a more modern and robust approach to conservation. Tokelau acknowledges the international call for action in ensuring environmental protection and recognises the role of indigenous peoples and their communities in strengthening their biodiversity conservation. In our commitment to Agenda 21 the Government in working closely with the communities have adopted the following initiatives:
Finally, work is currently in progress in our communities to complete our renewable energy project. The result of this project is to have all or 100% of our electricity needs supplied by solar energy. With the continuing support from the Government of New Zealand we hope to complete this project late this year.
We are apprehensive as to what the future holds for our children and therefore Tokelau is committed, through her National Strategic Plan 2010-2015 to a development path that does not further threaten her land, sea, and people. Its geography and relative isolation makes delivery of basic economic and social services very costly and a significant challenge. Therefore development that is truly sustainable is essential if we are to ensure our survival. Our development plan maps out the initial steps we must take for the long-term preservation of our land, our surrounding waters, our culture and heritage and our people. We acknowledge the Government of Australia for this considered and visionary initiative in recognizing indigenous people and measures on how communities can improve land and sea conservation management and create broader social and economic benefits.
I wish you all a successful meeting and a safe journey home
Malo and fakafetailahilele.