By: Speaker Sabino Anastacio
Palau, like many of its Pacific Island peers, is deeply reliant on the international community. From tourists who frequent our beautiful islands to experience world-class diving, to bilateral and multi-lateral partners that help us to address emerging and existing threats to our stability, to civil society organizations that support our efforts to drive economic and environmental resilience. We are deeply grateful for this support and partnership.
Unfortunately, some of our so-called international partners have engaged more problematically in recent years. They seem to have forgotten that we are a sovereign nation and a proud people. Echoing the worst of the region’s colonial experience, they assume they know what is best for us. Funders and NGOs that proudly espouse their respect for and solidarity with “Indigenous Peoples & Local Communities (IPLC)” seem only to do so when it’s convenient to their cause.
They run campaigns that poison our social cohesion and politics. They make big funding promises that are never fulfilled. They lob accusations unsupported by facts that destabilize our communities. I wish that Palau’s recent experience was an exception to the rule. But, all across the Pacific Islands, these same actors engage with the same scorched-earth approaches—lack of rigorous science, unrealized funding promises and campaigns to co-opt the media to serve their agenda.
In the face of this, we have remained silent. Silent for fear that critical technical and financial support would disappear if we spoke these truths to power. But, now it is time for a new approach as it has become clear that not only do the ends not justify the means, but, ultimately, the means undermine the ends.
While some would have you believe that Palau is greedily abandoning the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS) to pillage its waters, this is simply not true. In fact, House Bill 11-30-2S, HD1 is designed to save and develop a realistic vision for the future of the PNMS grounded in science and economics. Put simply, the original PNMS was not set up to be financially sustainable. The economic shocks of the pandemic revealed this reality. In order to address this problem, we have enlisted help from trusted organizations including The Nature Conservancy and other partners. They have engaged at our request to support us in stabilizing the PNMS while we undertake a 3-year Marine Spatial Planning process to develop options for us that are more durable and address the real needs of our people to balance resource use and protection. Grounded in science, transparency and inclusivity, this planning process will position us to address legitimate concerns, like how to bolster our fledgling domestic fishing industry and how big a protected area we can afford. The process will result in robust marine protections that support Palau’s continued global conservation leadership with science-based, sustainable production in the areas around core no-take closures to secure sustainability in 100% of our waters.
As we look to the future, I hope that stakeholders take a moment to reflect on the last years and recommit to respecting our sovereignty while supporting Palau and its Pacific Island peers with our shared goals for economic and environmental resilience and stability. At this time of monumental challenges to our way of life, we need your support and partnership.
I call on our states’ and communities’ leaders to come together and help build consensus on what is best for our people and nature for the benefit of present and future generations.