Environmental Law Program

Oceans of Hope: Professors and Students attend Regional Conference on Ocean Issues facing the Pacific

Professors and students from William S. Richardson Law School traveled across the Pacific to Nadi, Fiji, to attend the 2017 Regional Conference on the Ocean Policy for the East Asia and Pacific Islands. This year’s theme was focused on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14 concerning protection of the seas, and other ocean issues of importance to the Pacific Islands and East Asia. Professor Sherry Broder and Professor Richard Wallsgrove (‘08) attended the conference as organizers and speakers with their students assisting with the conference. The students in attendance were Brandon Singleton (‘18), Larissa Cruz (‘18), Alex Skopis (LLM, ‘18), and Priya Rashid (‘18).

From November 17th to the 18th, speakers from over eight nations came together to discuss current issues of critical importance to the Pacific region and to the development of international ocean law. Overall, the panelists came together to discuss theoretical and practical considerations concerning globalization, climate-change, conservation, and regional regulation. Specific topics discussed and debated included treaty development on areas beyond national jurisdictions, delimitation disputes caused by ocean sea-rise and use of fish aggregating devices.

Of special interest was the issue of plastic waste and plastic presence in our fish stock. Alex Skopis, a LLM student and conference rapporteur responded, “There is a terrifying amount of garbage in the ocean. We should strive to reduce, reuse and recycle, in that order. It was pleasant to learn there are experts working together on unified global solutions.”

Dr. Andrew Jones, Director of Geoscience, Energy and Maritime at the Pacific Community (SPC) the local host in Fiji, said the conference was “one of the most informative and interesting meetings I have attended in this sector, and much of the credit goes to the presenters whose papers were of the highest quality. This was not an insignificant achievement as the speakers were from a wide cross section of disciplines, which itself was one of the key benefit of the meeting, bridging gaps across those disciplines, and yet the highly sophisticated messages were accessible to all the participants.”

Professor Sherry Broder opened the conference, and stood as representative for the Jon Van Dyke Institute and her late husband, the eminent scholar, Professor Jon Van Dyke. She discussed the importance of the conference’s continued work as ocean stewards and the life and legacy of Professor Van Dyke. Professor Broder chaired a panel on the “Implementation of International Law and Regional Cooperation” which brought together academics from Singapore, Korea, and Fiji to discuss how the law can be used solve complex issues facing Oceania.

Professor Seokwoo Lee recognized Professor Broder and the Institute at the conclusion of the conference for the sustained effort to protect the seas and encourage progressive legal development. Professor Lee offered his deepest gratitude to the late Professor Van Dyke as a seminal reason the conference was possible, describing him as more than a legal scholar, but also as a great man “who gave a voice to the voiceless.”

Professor Richard Wallsgrove participated on a panel concerning resources other than fisheries. Panelist chair, Professor Joonsoo Jon, commended Professor Wallsgrove as “an energy superman” for his work in renewable energy. Professor Wallsgrove also gave a presentation titled “Lessons from an Ocean State’s March toward 100% Renewable Energy.” Professor Wallsgrove presented the island-state of Hawaii as a case study to be learned from, focusing on the intersections between environmental stewardship, cultural protection, social cognition, policy-making and the positive and negative realities of expanded use of renewable energy.

Professor Wallsgrove concluded his presentation by advocating for environmental reform as an arm of restorative justice, intended to be “for the people.” Larissa Cruz, a third-year law student and conference rapporteur said, “Professor Wallsgrove made me proud to live in Hawaii, where our goal is to utilize 100% renewable energy. His presentation emphasized how people and technology, in the form of ocean-based energy sources, can help to prevent climate change.”

Brandon Singleton, Larissa Cruz, Alex Skopis, and Priya Rashid attended the conference as a component of their International Environmental Law Course, taught by Professor Wallsgrove. The four students served as rapporteurs at the conference, assisting with note-taking, synthesis and reporting on panels and conference activities. On the final day of the conference, students presented their summations and conclusions to the entire conference.

Dr. Jones said, “Special mention needs to go to the rapporteurs, four law students from the University of Hawaii, whose tireless efforts over the course of the meeting stood them in the highest regard of all participants. Their consistent and considerate work in capturing the concepts presented by the participants, working late into the night, speaks of their tenacity and work ethic, which will stand each of them in good stead for meeting the challenges of the future. But it was their summation of the key concepts from each of the sessions and the meeting in general that show they will not only meet these challenges but thrive in the face of them. More than articulating the points raised in the sessions, they were able to frame them from a personal perspective that emphasised the criticality of the issues facing the oceans for this and future generations. They brought an energy and passion to the meeting which would have been sadly lacking without their presence. I left the meeting with hope and optimism for the future knowing that such impressive and intelligent young professionals were the future custodians of our oceans.”

Our students were able to use international legal principles and knowledge to assist with the panels and activities. While presenting to the conference, Brandon Singleton said, “As an American, this conference gives me hope that progress and leadership, on implementation of law and regional cooperation, can come from the ground up, and not only from the highest levels of government or courts.”

Though the purpose of the conference was regional environmental reform in Oceania, the Aloha spirit travelled with the Hawaii contingency. Notable panelists from Hawaii included Dr. Richard Vuylsteke, Chief-Executive of the East-West Center, Dr. Jerry Finin, Director of the East-West Center’s Pacific Islands Development Program, and Dr. Zena Grecni, Sustained Assessment Specialist for the Pacific Islands Regional Climate Assessment (PIRCA) of the East-West Center. Besides networking, the students were also able to spend a day visiting the town of Nadi and the island of Savala with Professor Broder, Professor Wallsgrove, and their families.

Vinaka vaku levu – Our deepest thanks to our hosts, the Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology, especially Project Coordinator Ms. Charity Mijian Lee, the Jon Van Dyke Institute, in collaboration with Secretariat of the Pacific Community – Division of Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Activity (SPC-GEM), our own East West Center, and the Australian National Centre for Ocean Resources and Security (ANCORS).

The professors and students gained great insight but also many vei tau, fijian for friends, from over eight nations and serving as advisers throughout the Pacific region. Professors and students alike felt a sense of renewed optimism and perspective into issues facing not only Oceania, but our world. Student and conference rapporteur, Priya Rashid, said in her presentation, “If you take one thing away from this conference, it is the Hawaiian phrase: ka lā hiki ola, which translates to the dawning of a new day, and a reflection on the precious resource that is hope.”