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‘It’s about moving past business-as-usual’: Ocean Governance for the Solomon Islands

In the latest in our blog series in the lead-up to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, we catch up with Lysa Wini-Simeon, Ocean Governance Officer for the Solomon Islands.

Can you tell us more about your role, and how you got involved in working on ocean governance?

I’m working with 12 different Ministries to develop an integrated ocean governance framework, and my role is supported by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Oceania.

The national interest for an integrated approach to ocean management began in 2015, when we started working on Marine Spatial Planning, supported by IUCN, and we realized that most of our work – policies, mandates, regulations – had been done very sectorally. The environment for ocean governance was there, but it was very sectoral. So twelve different Ministries – the ‘Ocean12+’ – decided to come together to push forward the ocean governance agenda in the Solomon Islands.

Could you tell us more about how the policy was developed, and how it’s been used and received since its launch last year?

The usual practice is for Ministries to work from a policy, so we made it a priority to develop an Ocean Governance Policy. The Ocean Policy is one of five priorities, the others being ocean legislation; capacity-building; Marine Spatial Planning, and Sustainable financing to support this work.

The Ocean Policy was finished in 2017 and endorsed by the Cabinet of Solomon Islands in December of the same year. It was launched in November 2019, and we’ve started implementing some components, one of which is to do Marine Spatial Planning (MSP). This is led by the Ministry of Environment and Fisheries.

Were there any challenges?

It was a challenge to create a new culture of working together; the culture of working in silos is so deep. It is uncommon to sit around the same table to discuss issues and come up with pragmatic solutions and share our resources to address the issue. So the challenge for us now is to move past business-as-usual and towards this new culture of working with each other and share our resources for a common vision.

How do you go about sourcing scientific and traditional knowledge for policy development? Where or who do you go to for quality information and advice? Are there any gaps?

Normally we source expertise to support decision-making from outside of the country, mainly through the regional organizations. But there’s a big challenge in accessing information; countries like Solomon Islands are usually data-deficient or the data is not organized in an easily accessible location.

There’s still a huge gap, and we’ve started to recognize that we have not really fully utilized science in our work. For the Marine Spatial Planning process we’re using open source data, through the support of IUCN, and that has helped us to see and understand the Solomon Islands and the ocean generally, but there’s a huge gap at the national level, because not many studies have been done in the Solomon Islands. The only Rapid Assessment done for the entire country was done in 2004 by The Nature Conservancy (TNC). That enabled us to see what we have and put us on the map as one of the Coral Triangle countries. It was also what made our leaders see why the ocean was important. But that was 2004. Since then, the information may have changed, we may have lost species, but there’s no research.

Now that we’re doing Marine Spatial Planning, we’re looking across our Exclusive Economic Zone and we’ve realized that we lack information. We did a nation-wide consultation to seek input, and we found people didn’t have much to say about the offshore areas – the inshore areas are understood more, but there’s a gap on the biology of the inshore areas. A nation-wide knowledge of our ocean is not there yet, because NGOs tend to focus only on their sites, which are not spread across the country, so there’s only good data for certain areas. 

What about capacity building initiatives to support science and research in the Solomon Islands?

One of the main principles of the ocean policy is that scientific evidence should be used to inform decision-making. Through the planning process, policy-makers and communities are realizing that we still do not have enough scientific evidence to really understand what we have. There’s a recognition of the need for more research and more studies, as well as the need to support and encourage young people here to study marine science. We’re running a national campaign that focuses on getting people excited about ocean science. 

You’ve written on the ‘Blue Economy’. Could you explain for a lay reader what the Blue Economy is, and how it may contribute to a healthier ocean?

The Blue Economy is about the sustainable development and use of our ocean resources to achieve economic objectives. Countries like Solomon Islands rely heavily on the ocean for sustenance, life and national economy. But the context in Solomon Islands calls for the need to conceptualize Blue Economy so that we can ensure the types of development we plan for our ocean maintain the ocean health and meet our economic aspirations as well.

How do you see the role of science in informing those understandings of the Blue Economy?

Science plays a big part. When we make decisions on what economic activities to go into, their impacts on the environment and where, they need to be supported by the best science.

For example, countries in the Pacific are now tangoing with the idea of deep sea mining. The way I’m hearing it talked about is as another option for making money. But we need to look at the science to ensure that we make the right decision. What areas do we use? How does mining impact on areas that are vulnerable or need to be protected? How is it going to impact the entire Pacific ocean?

Do you have any advice for scientists who want to make their research useful for policy makers and influence policy processes? 

Make it simple. And make it exciting! So that policy-makers can be not only challenged, but provoked to react to it. 

Finally, a subject that we do not talk as much about, but which is truly important. Both the fields of ocean science and policy in general remain very gender unequal, with many gender gaps. Do you have any advice for women starting their careers in ocean governance? 

One thing is demystifying ocean science, and getting beyond fears of deep-sea research. When I was growing up, I feared the deep waters – I like science, but I fear the sharks and the depths.

When I was in New York last year I had the chance to meet Sylvia Earle, who led the first female team of underwater researchers. Her daughter now designs submersibles. Most of my peers already knew about Earle, but coming from the Solomon Islands I didn’t, and I was absolutely inspired. It’s important to have more of those exciting stories about how wonderful it is to work in the amazing ocean depths. We need everyone, irrespective of whatever part of the world you are in, and especially young people, to hear from inspiring scientists, and women scientists in particular.

Photo: Giant clam cage basic husbandry, Solomon Islands. Photo by Mike McCoy, WorldFish, 2001 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This is part of a series of blog entries on the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (also simply know as the “Ocean Decade”). The series is produced by the International Science Council and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, and will feature regular interviews, opinion pieces and other content in the run-up to the Ocean Decade launch in January 2021.

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