An Ocean of Hope

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There is an ocean of hope in the world, and it isn’t too late to make a collective global difference in order to save mother earth! This was reinforced to me at the recent annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Nadi, Fiji. 

Wearing my corporate “hat” for the first time, I joined my soul sister Vina Francisco, ADB’s principal human resources specialist, at their52ndAnnual Meeting. As her official accompanying person, I assisted Vina at the ADB Human Resources booth and was able to attend several talks that were quite informative and inspiring. 

In line with the theme of the event, Vina brought in reusable metal straws as giveaways. Plus, I loved their hashtag, #ADBFiji.

Pacific island countries have always been an important focus for ADB. Since Samoa joined as a founding member of the development bank in 1966, the number of Pacific island member countries has increased to 15. The newest, and 68th, member is Niue.

This year’s theme, which also marks the first time a Pacific island country hosted the event, was “Prosperity Through Unity.” Among the issues discussed were sustainable tourism and its potential to boost national and regional development efforts, the role of private sector financing for disaster risk management and climate resilience in Asia and the Pacific, and the importance of continued efforts to improve ocean health. 

It was all very overwhelming, information wise, so I just focused on their ocean health and sustainable tourism topics. I found out that millions of people in Asia and the Pacific depend on oceans for their food and livelihoods, and thus, the health of our oceans is an urgent priority. Oceans are highly in danger, faced with increasing water temperatures, untreated wastewater and plastic pollution, and unsustainable fishing practices. By some estimates, by 2050, 90% of the region’s coral reefs will be dead, and there will be no commercially exploitable wild fish stocks left. We all have to act now.

Ocean protection requires collective action. ADB is already playing a catalytic role in this area through support for large regional programs such as the Coral Triangle Initiative. Across the region, the bank helps to reduce ocean pollution through investments in wastewater treatment and solid waste management systems. 

At this annual meeting, ADB launched an “Action Plan for Healthy Oceans and Sustainable Blue Economies.” The bank has initiated plans to increase investment and technical assistance to $5 billion in this area by 2024. Through these plans, they will help countries reduce, reuse, and recycle plastic waste, and address other forms of marine pollution. They will also support sustainable fisheries and measures to protect and restore key marine and river ecosystems.

In line with this, sustainable tourism is vital to preserving the healthy state of the ocean and surrounding islands. We all must pursue sustainable tourism by protecting nature, the environment, cultural heritage, and local communities. Otherwise, cities, beaches, and forests lose their attraction. Appropriate policies and regulations are essential.   

At the Opening Session of the Board of Governors at the ADB Annual Meeting, ADB president Takehiko Nakao and His Excellency Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji, delivered moving speeches about ADB and the milestone event that marked the largest-ever, international affair in Fiji. They welcomed the Honorable Minister Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, Chair of the Board of Governors, and the rest of the distinguished guests from all over the world.

I was just engrossed to listen to ADB president Nakao, as he stated, “Today, we are together here in Fiji, surrounded by the beautiful blue ocean. There is a phrase in the Fijian language — dua ga na ua — which means ‘as one wave,’ and it describes the way people move together. This meeting is our opportunity to work together as one wave for the future of Asia and the Pacific.”

At the session about Ocean Health, it was wonderful to note that the Philippines was cited as a positive example with the rehabilitation of Boracay Island. Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat flew in to be part of “CNBC Debate: Navigating Global Uncertainties in Asia – Lessons from Tourism, Technology and Trade,” and she did a super job representing our country.

I also got to see the film, “A Plastic Ocean,” and listened to director/journalist Craig Leeson discuss the topic afterwards. The award-winning documentary documents the global effects of plastic pollution and highlights workable technologies and innovative solutions that everyone, from governments to individuals, can do, to create a cleaner and greener ocean. 

It was so heartbreaking to watch this reality especially because I love scuba diving and all the beautiful reefs all over the world. I was able to convince Vina, a non-diver to fly to Fiji a few days before the meeting to do some shark diving in Beqa Island. 

The up-close-and-personal encounter with sharks including bull, lemon, nurse, white tip and grey reef, was just unbelievable. Beqa allows divers to experience six-foot sharks literally opening their mouths to feed on chummed tuna heads just a few feet away.

Another interesting topic at the ADB meeting was the role of the youth in the development of island nations. Seeing the world through the eyes of our young people is critical to achieving inclusive development. This year’s host country event, “30 Under 30: The Faces of Fiji’s Future,” showcased the industry-changing achievements of Fijians under the age of 30 through a panel-style discussion. 

Birthday girl Athena Valdes and Mika Aglipay

The youth is really the future of the world. It was so timely that my youngest daughter Athena, together with her classmates Mika Aglipay and Alessa Bitong, recently did a community topic for her Beacon School class on “Trash Segragation.” I’m so happy that in their own way, the school is teaching kids to do their share in making the world a healthier planet. 

Today is also Athena’s birthday, so happy birthday, sweetie.

More pics on Instagram @seaprincess888.

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