Thursday, December 03, 2015

Mensahi ginen i Gehilo' #10: Belau On Your Mind

For those thinking about the future of Guam, especially in the context of decolonization, we should stop looking to the United States, but instead look to Palau/Belau. Many of our ideas about decolonization or independence and therefore political possibility are tied to the way we perceive the United States. We see it as being the model for the way a country should live and exist today. We are conditioned in an endless number of ways each day and over the course of our lives here to see the United States as the pinnacle of possibility. That if we are to live anyway, it should be the images we have of it. We look to other large and powerful countries as distant alternatives, but always we see America as being where its at. The way we see America however is far from objective. Our gaze drips with colonial nonsense. When the first discussions on political status change and decolonization started to emerge in Guam, one constant refrain of resistance was the notion that Guam could never be self-sustaining and self-sufficient and therefore independent the way the United States is. As a result independence is impossible and we shouldn't try. But as the late Guam Senator Frank Lujan reminded people in his article "Sleeping Beauty: Time Passes By,"
Those who defend Guam's colonial status argue that economic independence for Guam is impractical. We happen to agree. Guam by herself can never be economically independent. But nor can our great mother country the United States. There no longer is any such animal as an independent nation in the world today...All nations in the latter part of the 20th century are economically interdependent.
This is such an important reminder, on so many levels. It is a reminder that many things which we assume to be true and bedrock facts, may simply be fear and ignorance. To imagine that Guam has to take care of everything on its own and can't get any help from others is ridiculous. Every independent nation works with others. The difference between a colony and an independent country is that a country gets to choose who it wishes to associate with. As a colony, you are stuck with your colonizer's list of friends and enemies. But this is also a reminder that we should look at places closer to home when trying to imagine independence for Guam. Places who were once colonized who are using their autonomy and their resources and potential advantages to the best of their abilities. Places, such as Palau/Belau. It is making headlines around the world lately, for pioneering a number of environmental programs. Whereas most countries give some lip service to the environment, but are actually ravaging their natural resources with chaotic and frantic speed and efficiency, Palau is hitting the breaks. They are showing us a different way to develop oneself, one which is focused on long terms gains and goals and not short terms ones. They are not seeking to sell off their fish, their lakes, their waters, their lands as quickly as possible in order to get as much money as possible as quickly as possible. They are instead seeking a way to protect what is precious and irreplaceable and should be beyond value in terms of money.


Palau: Reason for Ocean Optimism
by Wayne Sentmen
The Huffington Post

Efforts to conserve the world's oceans are continually challenged by both what people put into them, and the rates at which we are taking biodiversity out of them. Awareness of these problems is at an all-time high, and yet I often struggle to find examples of places where people have gone beyond awareness to actually adopt and practice ocean-friendly behaviors. But rest assured that there are still "hope spots" in the world's oceans, ones that remind us of the benefits that occur when people and governments prioritize marine conservation. The island nation of Palau is one of them.

Consisting of approximately 250 islands, Palau is located in the Pacific Ocean region known as Micronesia. Though small in population (approximately 21,000), Palau has gained global prominence as a conservation leader in recent years through bold actions that redefine the value of the ocean to both Palau's people and to the world.

In 2009, the government of Palau announced that it would make the entire nation a sanctuary for sharks, the first of its kind on the planet. The act completely forbid commercial shark fishing within Palau's Exclusive Economic Zone, an area of roughly 600,000 square kilometers, and sent a bold message to the world that overfishing of sharks should not be tolerated by Pacific nations -- not only because healthy shark populations are good for the oceans, but also because they are good for the economy. In fact, due to Palau's strong market for snorkel and scuba ecotourism, a single live reef shark is worth roughly US$1.9 million over its lifetime (compared with a value of US$108 for a dead shark). The designation of Palau's shark sanctuary fueled a global campaign, and today 10 other countries have followed suit, creating more than 4.9 million square miles of shark sanctuary.

Palau is once again placing itself in the marine conservation spotlight as it is poised to become the first country to create a national marine sanctuary that will encompass more than 80% of its Exclusive Economic Zone and prohibit all industrial-scale fishing, foreign fishing, and exports of catches. When fully established, the visionary marine protections established in Palau's national marine reserve will once again serve to inform world leaders and demonstrate how the economic benefits of long-term marine resource preservation can vastly outweigh short-term resource exploitation. Through continued national actions that recognize the value of marine conservation, Palau is leading by example.

As someone who spends much of the year guiding ocean focused eco-travelers to the most pristine and vibrant ocean areas left, I have seen first-hand the thrill that travelers experience when swimming alongside reef sharks in healthy, predator dominated tropical-reef ecosystems. I am therefore not surprised to learn that the people of Palau are benefiting from a rising tourism valuation of its protected waters. The combination of sound environmental protection and a strong social record have landed Palau on the list of "The World's Ten Best Ethical Destinations" for five years running, and drawn global attention to this small island nation.

As we celebrate World Oceans Day this June 8, let Palau serve as both example and inspiration for how we can collectively move beyond ocean-conservation awareness to take real ocean-conservation action. In the words of Palau's president Tommy Remengesau, "It doesn't matter where you live around the world; we are all connected somehow and are impacted by what we do to the oceans and the health of the oceans and the seas."

Wayne Sentman is a conservation biologist, naturalist, educator, and director of international eco-travel programs for Oceanic Society, America's oldest non-profit dedicated to ocean conservation.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action. The series is being produced to coincide with World Oceans Day (June 8), as part of HuffPost's "What's Working" initiative, putting a spotlight on initiatives around the world that are solutions oriented. To read all the posts in the series, read here.


The Pacific is About to Get a Massive New Ocean Reserve

A tiny island country in the western Pacific Ocean that's smaller than New York City has approved the creation of an enormous marine reserve that's bigger than the U.S. state of California.

The nation of Palau is moving forward with creating a reserve that's about 193,000 square miles (500,000 square kilometers) in size. This would make it one of the five largest fully protected marine areas in the world. (Read about Chile's newest marine reserve.)
On Thursday Palau's Congress signed off on keeping 80 percent of its territorial waters from any extractive activities, including fishing and mining. The remaining 20 percent will remain open to fishing by locals and a limited number of small commercial operations.

President Tommy Remengesau Jr. plans to lend his signature to the new reserve as soon as next Monday, which will make the protected area official.
"Island communities have been among the hardest hit by the threats facing the ocean," Remengesau said in a statement. "Creating this sanctuary is a bold move that the people of Palau recognize as essential to our survival."
Enric Sala, a National Geographic Society explorer-in-residence and head of the Pristine Seas project, said that "Palau has really blown it out of the water."
The country "is one of the places with the highest marine biodiversity on the planet," he says. Pristine Seas helped evaluate the effectiveness of smaller, traditional marine reserves in Palau.
The country's waters are home to over 1,300 species of fish, about 700 species of hard and soft corals, and marine lakes that host hordes of non-stinging jellyfish.
Palauans have a long history of bul, or setting aside smaller reef areas during fish spawning and feeding periods as a way of giving those populations time to recover from fishing practices. The federal government has now effectively extended that practice to encompass the majority of the country's ocean.

The government is still working out the details when it comes to enforcement of their new marine reserve. The nation has no military and only one law enforcement ship.
But "Palau is serious about enforcing their laws and protecting their resources," says Sala. Earlier this year, the country confiscated wooden boats from Vietnam that were fishing in Palau's waters illegally and burned them. (Learn more about the incident.)
"We will not tolerate any more unsustainable acts," Palau president Remengesau told National Geographic earlier this year. "Palau guarantees, [poachers] will return with nothing."
Follow Jane J. Lee on Twitter.


Palau Submits its Climate Action Plan Ahead of 2015 Paris Agreement
Press Release
November 28, 2015

Bonn, 28 November 2015 – Palau submitted its new climate action plan to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

This Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) comes in advance of a new universal climate change agreement which will be reached at the UN climate conference in Paris, in December this year.

This INDC and all others submitted by countries are available on the UNFCCC website here. Including Palau, 183 parties to the UNFCCC have formally submitted their INDCs.

The Paris agreement will come into effect in 2020, empowering all countries to act to prevent average global temperatures rising above 2 degrees Celsius and to reap the many opportunities that arise from a necessary global transformation to clean and sustainable development.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres is encouraging countries to come forward with their INDCs as soon as they are able, underlining their commitment and support towards this successful outcome in Paris. Governments agreed to submit their INDCs in advance of Paris.

All information such as documentation on designing and preparing INDCs as well as on sources of support for INDC preparation, is available here.

Countries have agreed that there will be no back-tracking in these national climate plans, meaning that the level of ambition to reduce emissions will increase over time.


The Republic of Belau and President Tommy Remengesau Jr. should be commended for their courage in declaring 80 percent of Belau’s exclusive economic zone a marine conservation area and reserving the remaining 20 percent for local and licensed commercial fishing interests.

Earlier, President Remengesau displayed his resolve to protect the waters of Belau from illegal foreign intrusion. Five foreign vessels were captured, by maritime rangers, for fishing illegally in Belau waters. The fishermen were deported to their home country in one boat while the other four were burned and scuttled, a warning to all that Belau’s sovereignty over its waters will be respected.
Years ago, many in Guam deemed Belau’s choice to be an independent nation as ill-advised.

Declaring independence from its colonial status was viewed as a step in the wrong direction which would prolong the economic hardships experienced under the U.S. trusteeship. Despite the criticism, Belau continued its hard work and established working relationships with sovereign nations of the Pacific Rim. That fortitude is paying off as nations contribute to the island nation’s economic growth.
President Remengesau has put the world on notice that Belau’s sovereignty will be recognized, that the natural beauty and sanctity of its flora and fauna will be respected and its people will be acknowledged as citizens of the world.

Belau has established embassies and diplomatic missions in major countries of the Pacific Rim, as well as at the United Nations. Its passport is no less recognized than a U.S. passport and its citizens are accorded the same respect, rights, privileges and benefits as citizens of other nations.
From a neglected colonial ward of the world’s most powerful nation, Belau will mature, at its own pace, as a respected member of the international community — from a hidden state secret to tropical islands whose beauty is now acknowledged as a wonder of nature. From a stepchild relegated to Kissinger’s “benign neglect” to a nation where the visitor industry is growing so fast that policies are being established to control and ensure that rampant tourism will not overwhelm Belau’s infrastructure capacity.

As we watch Belau’s transformation, we realize that its people, and its leaders learned quite a bit from us. They are taking control of their own destiny; and will decide for themselves how, and at what pace, their islands will progress. They learned the need to conserve and protect Belau’s natural beauty from uncontrolled development. They learned the importance of protecting, defending and safeguarding their environment, their birthright, and their culture to ensure that their assets would be as beautiful tomorrow as they were yesterday, and are today.

Perhaps now we should learn from our brothers in Belau. Perhaps, now, we will learn not to be paranoid or afraid to take control of our own destiny. Perhaps now it is time to decide and determine when and how we can cut the proverbial umbilical cord to a colonizer whose real interest in Guam is its value as an extension and symbol of its manifest destiny and efforts to exercise hegemony over the entire Pacific.

Joaquin P. Perez is a resident of Santa Rita.

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