The Nippon Foundation Conference Gathering Alumni from Four Different Fellowship Programs in the Black & Caspian Sea Region

Tbilisi, Georgia

It is a great honor for me to participate in this conference, hosted by the government of Georgia. My first visit to Georgia was in 2007, when the Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies and The Nippon Foundation co-hosted an international conference on security and stability in the South Caucasus region, here in Tbilisi. And today, I am overjoyed that we are supporting a conference initiated by the Georgian government and The Nippon Foundation alumni.

For over three decades, The Nippon Foundation has been implementing scholarship programs to develop human capacity in the ocean and maritime field. Our partners over the years include international organizations, universities, research institutions, and governments.

Our fellows across the ten programs are diverse in terms of gender, nationality, age groups and academic and professional backgrounds. The time spent together both in and outside the classrooms enables them to think beyond their differences to nurture a shared concern toward the world’s oceans. Currently, over 1200 alumni from 140 countries are working day and night as lawmakers, government administrators, diplomats, scientists, and researchers, to protect our precious oceans. This of course includes all of you here in this room.

As you all know, the world’s oceans are in a critical state. Humanity cannot exist without the oceans. And yet, climate change is causing rising sea levels, and ocean acidification and this in turn is driving changes to the ocean’s ecosystem, such as depleting fish stocks, on a global scale. And to make matters worse, humans are dumping huge quantities of plastic into the ocean and this is disappearing into the food chain.

I hear that the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, are also experiencing depleting fish stock and other environmental impacts due to IUU (Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated) fishing, and that the current challenge is to achieve a more integrated ocean governance.

Efforts to reverse these effects are slowly underway. With the United Nations taking the lead, there is a global movement to sustainably use and conserve the oceans for sustainable development. However, when considering the ocean’s massive presence, and the enormous complexity of the issues involved, I feel that working toward a vision just for the next century is inadequate. Rather, we need to be working toward a vision for the next millennium.

We all know that to address the complex issues of our oceans, we need collaboration that transcends sectors and country borders. But the truth is, there is not nearly enough cross-sector, and cross-border collaboration. To change the current landscape, we need people like you, leaders who have the interdisciplinary mindsets and the courage to take action for something you feel passionately about.

I know, it is never easy for countries to come together to discuss issues that affect their national interests. But this conference defied this notion. Alumni from Georgia pushed this proposal to their government, and 30 Nippon Foundation alumni from neighboring countries agreed to attend. That makes this conference all the more meaningful.

The Nippon Foundation is ready to support any innovative ideas or strategies that result from collaborative efforts among The Nippon Foundation alumni. So please, think of this conference as a platform to forge new networks and take real action. We have here, about 30 alumni from our programs with United Nations, Division of the Ocean Affairs and the Law of the Sea (UN DOALOS), International Maritime Law Institute (IMLI), International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), and World Maritime University (WMU). Over the next two days, you will be identifying the needs and challenges facing the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and I look forward to the dialogue that you will all take part in, to determine what it is that you can do as alumni to address these needs and challenges.

Let me leave you with one last message. Don’t hesitate to take the lead in pioneering innovative collaborations and frameworks to address ocean challenges on a global scale. We, The Nippon Foundation will be there to support you. Let us work together to protect and preserve our beautiful oceans for our future generations.