The Heirs to Our Oceans (H2OO) met with community members of Palau to discuss the problem of plastic pollution at a Plastic Pollution Forum at the Koror State Government Assembly Hall on November 8, 2018.

The Forum commenced after H2OO visited Ngeroblobang Beach on November 4th where they conducted a brand audit of a sampling of the trash at the island along with Surangel Whipps Jr. and his family, many community members of Palau, Koror State Youth Council members, Koror State Government, and Koror State Rangers as well as a week-long plastic-pollution focused expedition that H2OO was a part of with Oceanic Society, Drifter’s Project and Plastic Pollution Coalition.

Due to the extent to which plastic breaks down in the natural environment, the majority of the plastic trash collected no longer had its brand adhered to the items found.  The collection of trash in a two-hour period resulted in finding 306 non-beverage plastic bottles (such as household cleaners and oil containers), 281 shoes (largely slippers), 318 beverage bottles (the majority of which were Coca-Cola and Danone Aqua), 177 food wrappers, 87 lighters, 35 toothbrushes, and a massive mound of derelict plastic fishing gear.

For those who were present, the collection of garbage, sorting, and processing of brands resulted in a more meaningful understanding of the plastic pollution that is affecting Palau’s land and waters as well as more concern and desire to do something about it.

With special thanks to Koror State Government, Sam’s Tours and BIOTA for donating boats to ensure as many people as were interested could attend the brand audit at Ngeroblobang Beach.  Also with great thanks to Surangel and Sons, Co. for donating garden gloves to protect hands as well as garbage bags.   Many thanks to Koror State Government for providing lunch for all.

At the Plastic Pollution Forum on November 8th, both Palauan and US Heirs shared about the impacts of plastic pollution on our health and on our natural environment.  They also shared steps that they would like to see happen in Palau to start moving away from dependence upon single-use plastics.  Ultimately, after processing sessions over lunch and in the afternoon, with a wrap-up session lead by the Heirs from Mindszenty High School, the Forum determined some single-use plastic reducing goals for Palau such as to achieve single-use plastic-free school cafeterias and banning plastic straws at a national level.  This is just the beginning, as the next steps – planning and execution – are imperative to success.

H2OO is so very grateful to all who were present at the Forum to help process the challenges of plastic pollution including Surangel Whipps Jr., who kindly shared the plastic-free paper alternatives that Surangel’s store is now offering, Senator J. Uduch Sengebau-Senior, Angaur Chief Uchelbelau Lorenso Edward, Chief Rekemesik Surangel Whipps Sr., Sandra Pierantozzi, Ann Kitalong, Coral Reef Research Foundation biologists Gerda Ucharm and Sharon Patris, and H2OO Chapter Advisor to PHS Kyah Remeliik, along with others. Visiting contributors included Wayne Sentman of Oceanic Society, Dianne Cohen of Plastic Pollution Coalition and Pam Longobardi of Drifter’s Project and others who were a part of the expedition that H2OO hosted during that week.  Also, Dr. Sylvia Earle offered some remarks as a guest speaker.

Pam Longobardi worked with RC Sakuma and several Heirs to make a Koror State flag marine-debris art piece for Koror State which was shown at the event.  It was made with the debris collected at Ngeroblobang Beach.

H2OO is incredibly grateful to those who sponsored the Plastic Pollution Forum:  Koror State Government and Surangel and Sons, Co.  There were many people involved in bringing the community together that day, with special thanks to Koror State Chief of Staff Joleen Ngoriakl, Surangel Whipps Jr., Tublai Ililau, Tarita Holm, Princess Blailes, Collin Joseph, Director Jennifer Olgeriil, RC Sakuma, Sengai Sablan, and Anisa Hanser.

We are also so very grateful to Bilung Gloria Salii and Mechesil Belau for sponsoring the “Meet and Greet” by donating the use of the Ngarachamayong Cultural Center where we began our plastic-pollution focused week together.  More so, we are grateful for the time Bilung has given in processing the importance of moving out single-use plastics for the health of the next generation and the role that education reform plays in doing so.  We are also extremely grateful to what she and Mechesil Belau models for the country by way of encouraging returning to traditional ways in hosting events rather than reliance upon disposable plastics.

It takes a village, as we saw last week.  Thank you to all who had any hand in bringing us all together on this important issue.  May Palau position itself as a leader in Micronesia in moving away from reliance upon single-use plastics.  And now, the real work begins. (PR)