July 2nd, 2012 was the opening of the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts, which is being held here in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands. There are delegations from several Pacific countries and also, for the first time, a delegation from China's territory of Taiwan.
Despite the distance, the Taiwanese are no strangers to the Solomon Islands, or the Pacific region in general. As a matter of fact, upon our arrival here we encountered three Taiwanese long liners anchored right outside of Honiara Port. Strangely the Taiwanese delegation present themselves as native people of the Pacific. More ironic, the Taiwanese are some of the largest consumers of shark fin soup and also one of the biggest shark finning groups, despite the fact that shark finning was banned in Taiwanese waters as of last year. Taiwan is able to remain involved in the fin industry by placing their long liners in several Pacific Island nations, like those we encountered when we first arrived. Those three vessels are registered in Port Vila, the capital of the neighboring nation of Vanuatu.
According to the Vanuatu Daily Post, Vanuatu currently has almost 200 foreign licensed fishing vessels, in addition to the domestic licensed foreign fishing vessel. Another article from the same paper states that the citizens of Vanuatu are very concerned about the Chinese investors and the rights they have to fish in their waters. As are the Solomon Island residents, having actually set fire to Chinatown two years prior. Many we have spoken with indicate that their fish stocks have plummeted, and local people are suffering.
As for conservation and the focus of this event (culture meets conservation), the highlight of the opening ceremony was the speech from Mr. Gordon Darcy Lilo, the Prime Minister of The Solomon Islands. Taking advantage of the opportunity to speak to the whole South Pacific community, he emphasized the importance of caring for their natural resources. Since the islanders depend so much on their environment and ecosystems, Mr. Lilo asked everyone to be aware of the impacts of the destruction of nature.
"We are unique, because we live with and depend on our environment. In this age of globalization we must be careful to preserve our environment and culture," said the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands. Mr. Lilo also recognized the importance of the environment for the islands and says that degradation is a wake up call to the necessity of preserving the environment.