Ungil kebesengei. Tokubets el sus el mora President Whipps, Ibedul, Reklai ma rubekul belau, Bilung, Ebil Reklai ma re mechesil Belau, Vice President Sengebau, Senate President Baules ma re Senators el rokui, Speaker Anastasio ma re Delegates el rokui, Minsters, Governors, Legislators ma rechad er Belau el rokui. Mem bo kulturek e bok du cheldecheduch el tekoi ra merikel el mor tirekal okiak er kid er chelechal kebesengei.
Excellencies, Honorable ministers, esteemed colleagues, ladies and gentlemen –
Thank you again for braving the journey to Palau. Hopefully in the last couple of days, you have gotten a good sense of what feels like to live in a Small Island Developing State. This is how we live as island people – with an inextricable link to the ocean that surrounds us. We have a symbiotic relationship with the sea – passed down generation upon generation. Our elders taught us to where to look, when to take, and when to let replenish and rejuvenate. We rely on the sea for sustenance, comfort and perspective. And know that it gives, but also easily takes when we forget to respect its power.
Today in Palau and in SIDS countries around the world, our livelihoods and identities are being threatened by global issues we contribute so little to – we see bleach white reefs that were once technicolor, our tuna stock is diminishing in size and spawning capability due to warming waters, and scientist tell us one of our sea cucumbers has seen a decline in stock by 90% in the last ten years because of overconsumption and climate change- something that has long been known by the fisherwoman who collects these sea cucumbers to not only feed her family, but also to earn a living. We also see huge amounts of plastic pollution with labels we can’t read wash up on our shores, threatening our environment and marine life.
I know I am preaching to the converted – as Secretary John Kerry said, “you are certified hard-asses to travel to Palau in the middle of a global pandemic.” We all know how important our ocean is to our survival.
So I leave you with this… it is known that 70% of the planet, 70% of the human body, and 70% of the human heart is water. It’s as if by divine design that water is the element that gives us life – it provides 51% of the oxygen in the air we breathe, and it keeps not only our bodies alive but our hearts and spirits as well.
So on your last few days in Palau, we ask that you put the work down and feel the ocean. Breathe in the salty air. Take in the expanse of brilliant blue. Feel her surface rising and falling with rhythmic ease. Dive, snorkel, or wade in the shallows. Experience the magic of our kaleidoscopic reef, and if you are lucky, perhaps the majesty of a mantra ray flying over head. But feel it and let it seep into your spirit. And be reminded of how beautiful and inspirational this planet is and how important it is to cherish it.
In Palauan, we have a phrase “otil a renguk” – “let it anchor your heart.” So when negotiations get tough with members of your Ministry, or at the Climate CoPs, or at the UN Oceans Conference in June and beyond, use these memories to hold your ground and fuel your fire… so that we might deliver the magic and awe of this beautiful planet to our children, grandchildren, and many generations to come.
Palau is a faraway land, but it is connected to your own homelands in two ways – by the ocean and by the air. These are the ties that bind us and remind us that we are one: if we honor them they will enthrall us, and if we don’t, they will destroy us. We Palauans are the people of a blue ocean state; but collectively, we are the people of a blue planet. So welcome home, we hope you enjoy our home, and we hope you have a safe journey home.
Mesulang and Mechikung. Thank you and Farewell.