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Some months ago, I was part of a special ocean and culture story-telling workshop on my home island of Erromango, in southern Vanuatu. There, I listened to traditional elders recount ancient sea wisdom and oral histories about ocean connections with other islands, passed down through generations over thousands of years. Far away, in the virtual domain, Pacific island governments were preparing key statements about the ocean to safeguard Pacific island futures, culminating in the annual Pacific Island Forum Leaders meeting on 6 August 2021 that produced the “Declaration on Preserving Maritime Zones in the Face of Climate-Change Related Sea-Level Rise”.

This forward-thinking Declaration sets an invaluable precedent on maintaining maritime boundaries, without reduction, in the face of climate change-related sea-level rise. It aims to mitigate against loss of resources for island nations, demonstrating a significant interpretation of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to maintain rights and entitlements of national maritime zones despite shrinking coastlines, something that scholars have suggested provides the most environmentally just solution.

The Declaration strongly positions the Pacific states to present a clear message to the upcoming COP26 in November 2021 about the ocean-climate nexus. It is a culmination of a plethora of multilateral strategies and diplomatic statements regarding the shared stewardship and safeguarding of the Pacific Ocean, some of which include:

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