International Symposium: Human Well-Being and the Marine Environment in the Pacific Islands

Blessed with rich nature such as coral reefs and mangroves, Pacific islands countries and territories are directly susceptible to the effects of climate change, making them vulnerable to many environmental problems. Ecosystem deterioration by coral bleaching and rise in sea levels have impacted negatively on human livelihood and the ecosystem. Owing to their small land size, Pacific island countries and territories are not only disadvantaged in areas such as natural disasters, public health and healthcare, but also face a myriad of issues that require immediate attention. There is thus a pressing need for us to address such problems by working together to contribute to scientific knowledge and seek solutions for problem resolution.

In the past, our university has organized the Pacific Islands’ Academic Summit on three occasions as a side event of previous “Pacific Islands Leaders Summit” meetings (PALM) to promote academic exchange with institutions and researchers in the Pacific region. This has been followed by our university’s continuous efforts in functioning as a platform of education and research for the Pacific region through student exchange, collaborative research and other various exchange activities. In order to establish an even larger network for research collaboration among the Pacific Islands for the resolution of common issues, the International Symposium was held jointly by the University of the Ryukyus and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation (see symposium program.)

Young researchers from Fiji, Kiribati, Guam, Hawaii, Micronesia, New Caledonia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga and Tuvalu, as well as researchers and graduate students from the University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa Prefecture and OIST participated in the symposium and engaged in an active exchange of opinions (see list of participants). In addition, a poster session featuring 15 contributions from our university’s graduate students and researchers garnered keen interest. Approximately 170 participants in total visited the symposium, which was held over two days.

One of the keynote speakers, the Honorable Noah Idechong, Speaker of the House of Delegates, Republic of Palau and an eminent leader of environmental activities in Palau, gave an introduction on the history of environmental activities in Palau. The audience was impressed with his highly stimulating speech, which explained how environment activities not only culminated in the establishment of various laws on marine protection and the introduction of concept of a “green fee”, but also initiated the building of a network aimed at addressing environmental issues in the Micronesian region. The other keynote speaker, Prof. Makoto Tsuchiya (University of the Ryukyus) emphasized the importance of scientifically analyzing the relationship between land and coast for the promotion of discussions for coastal protection. He also spoke of the need for social networking and broader debate on oceans and marine environments.

Individual oral presentations by participants were highly stimulating (see abstracts) and active discussions were also conducted on various topics. The symposium also saw active networking amongst participants, who spoke of visiting each other’s countries and the possibilities of launching collaborative research. The symposium was brought to an end with an overall discussion and the adoption of a consensus statement for Human Well-Being and the Marine Environment in the Pacific Islands, which saw participants pledging to establish a network among the Pacific island countries and territories for collaborative action to address various issues on marine environment (see the consensus statement).

On May 19th, overseas participants were brought on an excursion to visit the sewage treatment center operated by the Okinawa Prefectural Government. In particular, Palauan representatives were so impressed by the facilities that they indicated their intention to send specialists from Palau to learn about sewage treatment in Okinawa. The symposium has not only proven the significance of continuing exchange activities, but has also heightened expectations for more active academic collaboration among countries and territories in the Pacific region through the development of various activities.