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Pacific region’s first Particularly Sensitive Sea Area

Preparing for the designation of the Pacific region’s first Particularly Sensitive Sea Area. Pacific island representatives gathered in Nadi, Fiji this week to discuss the protection of important marine areas from the impacts of international shipping. The sub-regional workshop on ‘The Identification and Designation of Particularly Sensitive Sea Areas (PSSAs) in the Pacific Ocean’ was coordinated by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) in collaboration with the International Maritime Organization (IMO).

A PSSA is a global mechanism, developed by IMO, to mitigate or eliminate the impacts of international shipping on sensitive marine environments. Unlike Marine Protected Areas, which aim to protect the environment from a number of activities, such as fishing, a PSSA deals exclusively with international shipping.

In the Pacific region currently, there are at least five areas identified as meeting the criteria necessary to establish a PSSA. These areas are located in waters off the Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Fiji and Kiribati. Other areas being considered are located in Tonga, Marshall Islands and Solomon Islands.

In his opening address, Mr Edward Kleverlaan – Head, Office for the London Convention/Protocol and Ocean Affairs at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) – explained the rationale for this week’s training:

“The Pacific region possesses some of the most outstanding ecological resources in the world. These resources face many pressures, including from international shipping. Despite this, the region does not have any designated PSSAs to protect these areas from such pressures. It is our hope that, through this workshop, Pacific island countries can come up with a workable plan to develop and submit a successful PSSA proposal in the future.”

SPREP’s Marine Pollution Officer, Mr Scott Willson, has found it very encouraging to see so many Pacific island countries currently considering having areas designated as PSSAs. The process however, can be quite complex:

“In order for an area to be designated as a PSSA, countries are required to identify the ecological, socio-economic or scientific values or attributes of the area, explain the area’s vulnerability to impacts from international shipping and propose measures to control shipping movements or discharges in these areas. These processes may sound onerous but they are set out clearly in IMO’s guidance documents which the participants gathered here this week have thoroughly reviewed.”

In recognition of the importance of designating a PSSA in the waters of Papua New Guinea, the Governor of Milne Bay Province, The Hon. Titus Philemon was in attendance. He stressed that this workshop was timely given the recent implementation of ship routing measures, which came into effect on 1 June 2015, in an area being proposed by Papua New Guinea as a future PSSA. He further emphasised that regional political support for these endeavours is crucial for future PSSAs throughout Pacific island countries and territories.

As well as assisting countries to identify potential marine areas that can be designated as PSSAs, the training explored the development of four year national action plans to assist in structuring the development of PSSA proposals for submission to IMO in the future.

The workshop was organised under the IMO Integrated Technical Cooperation Programme to promote the concept of PSSAs. In attendance were representatives from Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Tonga as well as staff from SPREP, IMO and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

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