By Suzanne Maxx

SUVA, Fiji, April 21, 2017 (ENS) – Fiji and other island nations may leapfrog the developed countries, becoming models for a greater than sustainable future – a transformational future – one that cherishes the natural world while providing the resources that humanity needs and enjoys.

The United Nations labels these islands Small Island Developing States, or SIDS. Others prefer the term Large Ocean Island States. Whatever they are called, in this region, both ecology and economy have plenty of room to grow.

Fiji

The remote Yasawa Island Group of 20 volcanic islands makes up Fiji’s western border. (Photo by Suzanne Maxx)

The Pacific island Republic of Fiji is an archipelago of more than 330 islands, of which 110 are permanently inhabited, and more than 500 islets, amounting to a total land area of about 18,300 square kilometres (7,100 square miles). More than 85 percent of Fiji’s population of 860,000 live on the two major islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

Fiji is one of the few naturally pristine island chains left in the world, one of the rare places with beautiful coral reefs, plants and animals with a crystal clear view of the stars and starfish alike.

Fiji’s eco-resorts stretch the imagination, blending ecological wonder with wonderful economic benefits for the local people. These Fijian eco-resorts are leading with an eco-prowess formula for sustainability, and not just for the benefit of tourists or for profit.

Last year, Fiji ranked on top of Google’s search engine when Fiji’s 7’s won the Olympic Gold medal in rugby in Rio de Janeiro. On an ongoing basis, Fiji is also searched for happiness and world peace.

On the world stage, Fiji has moved into active leadership. Fiji was the first United Nations Member State to sign and ratify the Paris Agreement on Climate and, 20 years ago, the Kyoto Protocol.

Thomson

Peter Thomson, president of the 71st session of the UN General Assembly, briefs journalists on The Ocean Conference, scheduled to take place at UN headquarters from June 5 to 9, 2017. New York, April 11, 2017 (Photo by Evan Schneider / UN)

Fifth generation Fijian, diplomat Peter Thomson is leading the United Nations General Assembly this year 2016-2017, an historical first for a small island state.

As the president of the UN General Assembly, Thomson held a High-Level Event titled “Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda,” on March 23-24, in collaboration with the Secretariat of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC.

So many UN Member States wanted to participate that a second day had to be added to the program. On April 18, Thomson facilitated the Multi-Stakeholder dialogue on financing the SDGs’ future.

Thomson said financing the SDGs will require US$6 trillion per year, or US$90 trillion over 15 years, while the cost of inaction would be far greater. He said the private sector must orient its actions and investments in the direction of these needs, and that this work has begun but must be scaled up.

Fiji is organizing, along with Sweden, the UN Oceans Conference in New York, being held June 5-10. In addition, Fiji is hosting the UNFCCC’s 23rd Conference of the Parties (CoP23) in December 2017. This event is taking place at the UNFCCC headquarters in Bonn, Germany due to Fiji’s inability to hold more than 20,000 guests.

With the relatively new Constitution governing the Republic, Fiji is in the process of petitioning to join the UN’s Council for Human Rights in 2018.

Of all Fiji’s treasures, the most valuable may be the welcoming character and the loving (Bula) nature of the native people and culture. Even industries, such as Fiji Airlines, welcome everyone to the Fijian islands in a BIG way.

The native culture’s hospitality means caring, coming as it does from an organic, authentic lifestyle close to nature and intimate with the ocean.

Fiji

One of Fiji’s hundreds of tiny islets (Photo by Suzanne Maxx)

In Fiji, an intimate relationship with the ocean is the core of island life. The ocean ebbs and flows like the breath inhales and exhales – the natural resources of the fishing, eco-tourism, plants and animals provide what is needed for the people and the planet.

Yet with sea levels rising, the increased frequency and scope of storms, ocean acidification, pollution and climate change, all are becoming an intensified threat to the thriving natural existence of the paradise found.

This region is one of the most vulnerable to climate change and the extreme weather events it brings. Hit with the record-breaking category 5 tropical cyclone Winston in 2016, Fiji knows the sting of climate change.

Living with and on the ocean in the Fijian traditional way of organizing island life is becoming more challenging, and going forward sustainable development, is a necessity, not a luxury.

The vulnerability of the Pacific Island Region is becoming a leadership strength. Recognizing that economy and ecology go hand in hand, the island governments have prioritized sustainability and could set an example for the world.

The islands are fragile and vulnerable, yet because of their size and present state of development they have the greatest opportunity to demonstrate true and lasting sustainability.

The industrialized developed world has in many ways chosen to sacrifice living intimately with nature for profit. The Fijian sustainable development model is striving for better balance.

Even within the rural locations in the developed world, investments in antiquated infrastructure and an electrical grid based on fossil fuels make the transition to renewable energy more expensive, slower and more difficult, keeping the profit in the hands of the privileged and benefiting few.

Fiji

Wayasewa native islanders (Photo by Suzanne Maxx)

But in the small island states, fossilized policy and regulatory structures are not the obstacles in the same way as they are in developed countries.

Since many small islands have been without water and electricity services, it is both economically and ecologically beneficial to start with renewable energy systems.

Fiji has embraced the changing times, planning for and allowing climate change refugees from inundated neighboring islands such as Kiribati, and is welcoming other islands’ native peoples to Fiji, as if welcoming them home.

A business model based on eco-resorts and tourism seems to create a win-win-win situation for all. Foreigners get to enjoy nature’s best, complete with cultural diversity. Native peoples benefit from the jobs created locally, and the economic and tax benefits for the country build a more sustainable future.

A great example is the grand reopening of the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort in Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu. The resort continues the legacy of ocean exploration that lives on for the whole Cousteau family, offering visitors both experiences and educational programs.

Born in 1910, Jacques-Yves Cousteau was a French naval officer, explorer, conservationist, filmmaker, scientist, photographer, author and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of marine life.

Maxx & Cousteau

Suzanne Maxx, left, and Fabien Cousteau at the Ocean Learning Center, New York (Photo by Albert Boulanger)

His son, explorer, environmental advocate, educator, and film producer Jean-Michel Cousteau, is founding president of the nonprofit Ocean Futures society.

The living legacy continues to the next generation as grandson, aquanaut Fabien Cousteau, deepens the exploration with the newly launched Fabien Cousteau’s Ocean Leaning Center. He champions sharks, and most recently broke his grandfather’s world record, staying underwater for 31 days.

Leading ecological tourism, Jean-Michel Cousteau created L’Aventure, a flagship dive operation at his oceanside Fiji Resort, where resident marine biologist Johnny Singh leads scuba diving and snorkeling adventures.

Like sea glass that is tossed in the ocean’s current becomes more luminescent and smooth over time, the resort’s transformation mirrors Fiji’s recovery after tropical cyclone Winston.

{In Part II of Suzanne Maxx’s report from Fiji, she will lead readers through the island chain’s eco-resorts.}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2017. All rights reserved.