MTEC highlights ocean conservation, tourism in Micronesia
“The ocean is the heart and soul of the islands here in Micronesia.”
The importance of the ocean for the people of Micronesia was further emphasized by Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr. during the Marianas Tourism Education Council Tourism Summit at the Pacific Islands Club Saipan yesterday with the theme “One Ocean, One Heart.”
In his speech before some 300 students from the different MY WAVE Clubs of schools, Remengesau said that the ocean should be the legacy that residents of the CNMI will leave for future generations.
“If there is a legacy that each one of you would like to leave for each generation, it is the ocean, it is the environment,” Remengesau said.
“The best legacy that you can leave for the next generation is an ocean that they can come and still enjoy,” he added.
Remengesau shared to the students the recent law they enacted in Palau, which established the Palau National Marine Sanctuary.
The law, signed Oct. 28 of last year, declared 80 percent of Palau waters to be a no-take reserve, while 20 percent is a protected domestic fishing zone, which Remengesau said is just enough for their local fishermen.
This became the world’s sixth largest fully protected marine area.
Remengesau said it is as big as Texas and France and admitted that even he is not able to see all of them yet.
“Why do we need to conserve 80 percent of Palau’s waters and oceans?” Remengasau asked.
Remengesau then enumerated food security, economic security, and cultural security.
“Scientists are telling us that fish population is already down, no longer like the old days,” Remengesau said.
He added that they are doing it to sustain the use of marine resource for future generations.
“People come to the island to seek food, to see the sharks, to film, to go out there and dive and see what life has to see under the ocean,” Remengesau added.
He added that he declared in Palau this year the “Year Of The Youth” wanting to teach younger generations early on the importance of the environment.
“People come to Saipan because of the environment and I want to say that the environment is the economy and the economy is the environment,” Remengesau said, “The important feature of the environment of course is the ocean. After all, why do they have to come to Saipan if they have their own?”
He then compared the ocean to the mother goose which lays golden eggs, and that if the mother goose is not taken care of, there will be no more benefits to reap.
Remengesau also mentioned the need to protect sharks, which is also an important part of Palau’s waters.
He said a shark is worth $1.9 million in its lifetime, but if one kills it just for its fins, then it would only be worth $40.
Former CNMI lieutenant governor Diego Benavente, who also led the anti-shark fin law in the CNMI, reiterated the importance of younger generations in influencing the leaders—such as what happened in 2009 when a sixth grade class pushed for a law to protect sharks.
“These students were so inspired that they demanded a law in the CNMI to protect sharks. Inspired by their passion, I introduced the bill,” Benavente said.
University of Guam assistant professor of Marine Biology Dr. Peter Houk explained to the students the need to keep repeat visitors coming back to Saipan.
He said the repeat visitors keep the tourism industry going when during the times when there are no “bubble” or rise or high influx of tourists.
He said since the top activities tourists would like to do in the CNMI are related to water activities, it is important to take care of the ocean.
“The fish are really important for the ocean. They keep it clean so that when a typhoon comes through, and all the coral dies, and the algae grows, they clean the house and vacuum it all up. The reef can come back in five years,” Houk said.
Houk said there is a need to plan for a balance in using the natural resources between the present and future use.
“We need to find a balance, a better balance in between the bubbles. I asked the people to think beyond the bubble,” Houk said.
For MTEC chair Vicky Benevente, she wants to inspire the students and instill in them the importance of taking care of the environment.
Aside from the speakers, various agencies and organizations also provided hands-on demonstrations at breakout stations during the summit such as the Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance, Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Commonwealth Council for Arts& Culture, BECQ/Coastal Resources Management, Northern Marianas College CREES, Northern Marianas Humanities Council, and the Marianas Visitors Authority.