Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Jr., a world leader in environmental conservation, will lead the list of guest speakers in the Marianas Tourism Education Council Tourism Summit set for Jan. 28 at the Pacific Islands Club Saipan.
Remengesau will be joined by former CNMI lieutenant governor and avid fisherman Diego Benavente; Dr. Peter Houk, assistant professor of Marine Biology at the University of Guam; and Angelo Villagomez of the Pew Charitable Trusts.
With the theme â€œOne Ocean, One Heart,â€ the summit is expected to gather 300 students from school MY WAVE Club to learn more about tourism, with special emphasis on the ocean as one of the Northern Mariana Islandsâ€™ more important tourist attractions.
Remengesau, the eighth president of the Republic of Palau, is the first Palauan to be elected as president three times. In 2014, the voice for the environment in the United Nations system, the United Nations Environmental Programme, awarded Remengesau with its top accoladeâ€”The Champion of the Earth awardâ€”for his visionary leadership in
strength ening Palauâ€™s economic resilience by spearheading national initiatives to protect its biodiversity.
Remengesau is now spearheading a historic effort in the establishment of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, signed into law on Oct. 28, 2015. This large-scale marine protected area that will cover 100 percent of Palauâ€™s waters (over 600,000 square km) and will include a 80 percent no-take reserve and a 20 percent protected domestic fishing zone, providing even greater protection for Palauâ€™s environment while further enhancing Palauâ€™s tourism revenues. The worldâ€™s sixth largest fully protected marine area, the Palau National Marine Sanctuary is Palauâ€™s contribution to preserving the worldâ€™s ocean resources.
Born and raised on Saipan, Benavente understands the importance of the ocean and marine life. Benaventeâ€™s father was a fisherman who taught his young son how to swim, cast a fishing net, and troll with lines and lures, which were hand-made by local fishermen. Under a bill authored by Benavente that became Public Law 17-27 on Jan. 27, 2011, the NMI became the first U.S. territory to ban the sale, trade, distribution, and possession of shark fins. This would inspire other island nations and countries to pass their own shark protection laws.
Benavente serves on the board of trustees on the Micronesia Conservation Trust and is a member of the Saipan Fishermenâ€™s Association. Recently, he attended the â€œOur Oceanâ€ conference where critical ocean issues were addressed including sustainable fishing and marine pollution.
Houk is a marine biologist with expertise in coral-reef ecology, fisheries, and conservation biology. He has spent over 15 years studying the near shore reefs of CNMI, and greater Micronesia, while producing sound research to improve management. During this time he earned his PhD from the Florida Institute of Technology, and then co-founded a non-profit organization based in Saipan that improved science-to-management frameworks across Micronesia. He is also a passionate fisherman, with interests in sustaining fish populations for local consumption, tourism economies, and the many other ecosystem services reefs provide us with. In 2013, Houk became the newest addition to the University of Guam Marine Laboratory faculty. His main roles include developing the technical skillsets of students that are needed for successful research, and producing science that has a positive impact on society.
Villagomez is an officer with Pewâ€™s Global Ocean Legacy project. He has helped secure the designation of the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument by the U.S. government, as well as passage of more than two dozen shark conservation laws in small Pacific and Caribbean island states. Villagomez has more than 10 years of grassroots experience campaigning for ocean protections and has worked for the League of Conservation Voters, the Smithsonian, and the Mariana Islands Nature Alliance.
â€œIâ€™m excited about the knowledge and shared vision that the summitâ€™s guest speakers will be offering to the students,â€ said MTEC chair Vicky Benavente. â€œOn behalf of the MTEC Board of Directors, I want to thank the government, community, and businesses who contributed to this yearâ€™s summit, namely, Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA), DFS, HANMI, and the First Hawaiian Bank.â€
At the tourism summit, the following offices and organizations will also provide hands-on demonstrations at breakout stations during the summit: Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance (MINA), Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic andAtmospheric Administration, Commonwealth Council for Arts& Culture, BECQ/Coastal Resources Management, Northern Marianas College CREES, Northern Marianas Humanities Council, and the MVA. (MTEC)