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Palau Chiefs Offer Wisdom in ‘Bul’

Environment

Palau Chiefs Offer Wisdom in ‘Bul’

We have reached a defining moment in history, one that will solidify the relationship between people and our planet for generations to come. With so much at stake, particularly for thousands of the world’s most vulnerable communities, leaders must be prepared to make decisions for the future, not for current political expediency.

Later this month, those of us at the highest levels of government will adopt the Post­ 2015 Development agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It’s an important framework that builds on the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which proved we can make historic gains by marshaling resources around a common cause and bringing stakeholders — governments, NGOs, the private sector and local communities — together. Even the most cynical among us must marvel at the millions that were educated, vaccinated and raised out of poverty as a result of those eight goals. The same should be true for the SDGs.

For Palau, and many of our neighbors in the Pacific, the Sustainable Development Goal on Oceans, Goal number 14, holds particular meaning. It recognizes the universal importance of a healthy, productive and resilient ocean. It challenges us to work together to make investments in sustainability. But to do so requires the right tools and the right partnerships to protect our environment, grow our economies, and enrich our people’s lives — and this is where we must all put our resources and energies to ensure that we leave our children and a world that they will be proud to live in and pass on to their own children.

In order to strategically invest our resources, the Ocean SDG contain two global targets that are inextricably linked: the need to create well-­connected systems of marine protected areas (MPAs) and a commitment to restoring healthy fish stocks.

If we are to create the paradigm shift that we have promised in the post-­2015 development agenda, more must be done to ensure a healthy ocean and long-­term food security for our peoples.

Fully protected marine reserves are a key to addressing the challenges of ocean health, and they provide a broad range of benefits by safe guarding biodiversity, protecting top predators and maintaining ecosystem balance.

As Pacific leaders, we have long recognized the need to create marine protected areas at the international level, and if we are to ensure a healthy ocean for future generations, we will need to make good on those commitments, creating reserves on both the high seas and in domestic waters.

For our part, to supplement the work taking place at the United Nations on biodiversity in areas beyond national jurisdiction and marine protected areas, I have committed to setting aside 80% of Palau’s waters as a reserve. This closure will create economic, social and environmental benefits. A well-­run sanctuary in Palau will lead to growth in fish stocks and, as a result, increase local fishing, creating better food security. In fact, the action plan for developing the Sanctuary calls for establishing a domestic fishing zone, which will provide fish for not only our local market, but for the growing tourism market as well — thus preserving an important part of the culture of our people as fishers, while also providing more local jobs.

The creation of the Sanctuary will also greatly expand our partnerships and our financial capacity to monitor our Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). A marine reserve will make it easier to monitor our waters and identify suspicious, and potentially illegal, fishing activity.

Developing such a large-­scale Sanctuary will further define Palau as a high-value tourism destination to the rest of the world. While fishing is a proud tradition, overfishing threatens the ecologically vibrant waters that draw visitors from around the world. They come to experience the best in diving and snorkeling, and by protecting our waters, we ensure that healthy reefs with abundant populations of marine life await them.

Palau has a proud tradition of protecting the ocean. Throughout our history, local chiefs have monitored the health of fish populations, and at the first sign of resource scarcity, leaders exercised their authority to declare a “bul,” or fishing ban. What our elders recognized in the establishment of the bul — that sacrifices made today stave off long-term resource droughts — provides the foundation for our sanctuary work today.

As world leaders meet in New York to rubber stamp a series of goals that can further protect our populations from the pains of poverty time is of the essence. Our ocean is at a critical point. We need to act now. We must not wait until there are no more fish.

[Original article featured in the Huffington Post]

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