PALM6: Marine Environment Symposium in Okinawa
The 6th Pacific Ocean Island Summit, a memorial event held as part of the PALM6: Marine Environment Symposium in Okinawa, took place on Thursday 17th and Friday 18th of May.
The first day, May 17th, was presented jointly by the University of the Ryukyus and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. In attendance at the invitation of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation were, from the Republic of Palau: The Honorable Noah Idechong, the Speaker of the House of Delegates; Mr. Joseph Aitaro, the director of the Bureau of Protected Areas Network at the Ministry of Natural Resources, Environment & Tourism and Mr. Olkeriil Kazuo, the director of Oceania TV. From the independent state of Samoa, Mr. Pulea E. Ifopo, the director of the Aleipata and Safata MPAs Trust Fund, also attended.
The proceedings were opened with a keynote speech delivered by Mr. Idechong , who gave a detailed explanation of the progress being made in marine conservation in Palau. Next up was Mr. Aitaro, who is responsible for advancing the network of protected areas in Palau, and Mr. Kazuo, who is in charge of related publicity and environmental education in Palau and the Micronesia region. From the point of view of an NGO involved in the conservation of protected marine areas, Mr. Ifopo gave examples that clearly illustrated the work being carried out in Samoa. From the Japanese side, Professor Makoto Tsuchiya from the University of the Ryukyus delivered a keynote speech on the coral reef ecosystem and the significance of the networking of marine protected areas, and introduced the Palau standard model for protected area networks. Next, Dr. Shinichiro Kakuma of the Okinawa Prefectural Fisheries and Ocean Research Center made a presentation on the theme of Satoyama and Satoumi, the concept how resident people wisely sustainably use its environment based on Japanese custum, the marine life and environmental resources of Okinawa and examples of marine protected areas.
The Honorable Idechong (left) and Mr. Aitaro of Palau (right)
After the Republic of Palau formed the self-government in 1981, it became fully independent by ratifying the Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1994. Mr. Idechong has been involved in the world of politics as a legislator since 2004. Prior to that, he played a significant role in the fields of fisheries and marine resources of Palau. Since before the independence, he frequently visited villages and facilitated dialogues with the community people with his colleagues. In 1994, just before the independence, he founded the Palau Conservation Society (PCS), an NGO, with like-minded people in Palau and promoted the establishment of land and marine protected areas with domestic and international supports.
In 2000, the Republic of Palau started to introduced the concept of Protected Areas Network (PAN) in order to increase effectiveness of the land and marine protected areas and the first PAN act was passed in 2003.
In 2006, with the purpose of expanding PAN to the Micronesia region, the three countries and the two jurisdictions agreed to effectively conserve at least 30% of the near-shore marine resources and 20% of the terrestrial resources across Micronesia by 2020 as the Micronesia Challenge Initiative.
In 2008, to support the efforts of the states to protect their resources and to attain the goal of the Micronesia Challenge, the PAN Act as amended was enacted. The act introduced the Green Fee, the fee which the foreign visitors to pay the cost for conservation directly to the local community, and collection began in November 2009. The money raised through the Green Fee is separated from the national budget and administered through the PAN Fund, an Non-profit organization. The PAN Fund provides financing to state governments based on their management plans of their PAN sites, the protected areas which registered to PAN. This is a unique system that allows visitors who enjoy the natural environment of Palau to be directly involved in its preservation. Mr. Idechong is a key figure involved in these initiatives in Palau, while Mr. Aitaro is active in their implementation.
Currently in Palau, 45% of the near-shore marine resources and 20% of the terrestrial resources are being conserved as protected areas and it already cleared the goal of the Micronesia Challenge Initiative and the amount of Green Fee collected since November 2009 reached about $2 million. The next goal is to increase the effectiveness of the protected areas. To achieve that goal, it will be necessary to develop human resources in the states and educate community people.
Palau has come up with an answer to the challenge of conserving its terrestrial and marine resources by involving all the players in the country including community people and governments, traditional society and modern society, fisheries sector and environmental sector as well as its financial system. Though made by a small island state, this is an innovative approach which leads the world.
The Sasakawa Peace Foundation carried out local surveys for the project for "Exploratory Research on Models of a Micronesian Marine Protected Area" and build a model called "Palau Integrated Marine Protected Areas." The Sasakawa Peace Foundation hopes to contribute to the preservation of marine environment in the Pacific region by introducing this model to the small island states and jurisdictions in the region. (Please see the diagram below)
Palau Type Integrated Coastal Zone Management Model (The Protected Area model which unifies Watershed, Rivers, and Coastal Zone)
Mr. Ifopo of Samoa
Two huge cyclones hit Samoa in the mid-1990s and they caused major damages in its terrestrial areas and near-shore areas. In particular, marine resources in the coastal area were depleted. This led the National government to start establishing Marine Protected Areas, MPAs, through the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, MNRE. The main purpose of MPAs set by the Fisheries Division was for raising fish stocks in the near-shore areas and based around villages. Meanwhile, the MPAs set by the MNRE were for conservation of biodiversity with larger-scale areas.
This top-down initiatives were not fully welcomed by community people because they felt their rights would be limited by the National government. But from the mid-2000s, the MPAs established by the Fisheries Division had been successful and fishing stocks had recovered remarkably. Then, various villages started to seek for establishing their own MPAs and the Fisheries Division supported them. Thus, the approaches for establishing MPAs changed from top-down to bottom-up.
The MPAs administered by the MNRE are located in Aleipata at the south east side of the Upolu Island, on which the capital Apia is situated, and the Safata area on the south west side of the island. The southern side of Upolu Island was hit by a tsunami on September 30, 2009, claiming 149 lives and causing major damage to the coral reef along the coastline. In the aftermath of this disaster, both of the MPAs were strengthened through the establishment of an NGO, the Aleipata and Safata Marine Protected Areas Trust Society, by community people in 2011.
Mr. Ifopo, who made the presentation about this initiative, was an official at the MNRE until 2011. He is also holding a title of Matai (traditional chief) of Safata village and became the manager of the Aleipata and Safata Marine Protected Areas Trust Society when it was established.
The common challenge which nations and jurisdiction in the Pacific region have is the lack of human resources at the community level who maintain the MPAs. In order to this, trainings and cultivation of skills is required, along with environmental education for making people more aware of marine conservation from childhood.
In addition, mutual understandings among community people should be deepened. The difficulties in protecting the stocks of marine life in the Pacific Ocean region, including blue fin tuna, groupers and giant clams, which are continuously taken illegally by foreign fishing vessels, was also discussed. Poaching or illegal licensed fishing for tunas, groupers, giant clams, etc. by foreigners are continuously operated in the Pacific region however the marine law enforcement in each nations and jurisdictions are not strong enough.
Also, the management of the stocks of sea cucumbers, which varies from country to country, is being affected by fishermen from Asia who overfish areas to the point of exhaustion, moving on to other areas when stocks run out. In Palau, there are legal provisions in place to deal with this, and many people agreed that similar measures are required in other regions.
Mr. Aitaro (left), Professor Makoto Tsuchiya of the University of the Ryukyus (right)
The Honorable Idechong (left), Dr. Shinichiro Kakuma of the Okinawa Prefectural Fisheries and Ocean Research Center (right)
Lively questions were asked by the audience (left), Mr. Ifopo (right),
With rainy season having already begun in Okinawa, the morning session saw some empty seats as the rain continued falling. From lunchtime, as the rain gave way to cloudy skies, the number of attendees increased and the panel discussion at the end of the day saw many questions from the floor, on topics such as managing blue fin tuna stocks and the fishing industry and nature conservation. Environmental protection and the health of local economies are closely linked. How can sustainable environmental protection be implemented? For Japan, which is also an island nation, this is also a crucial issue.
The symposium was covered by local media including the Ryukyu Shimpo and Okinawa Times newspapers, as well as broadcast on the NHK Okinawa lunchtime news and Ryukyu Asahi Broadcasting's 7.55 p.m. QAB News Station Q. In addition, Olkeriil Kazuo, director at Palau's OTV, came to Japan and filmed the entire proceedings of the symposium. Next month, OTV, which also broadcasts in Guam and Saipan, is scheduled to begin showing coverage of the symposium on local television in Palau.