Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. became the first recipient of Mission Blue’s Blue Heart Leadership Award in recognition of his efforts in protecting the oceans.

Mission Blue, an organization founded by Oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle that is dedicated in inspiring actions to protect the oceans, held an awarding ceremony on November 7 at the Palau Pacific Resort (PPR) which was attended by local and foreign dignitaries.

Earle, in her speech during the ceremony, said that the Blue Heart token is to show respect, admiration, and love to the president for championing the protection of the oceans and its resources.

The Blue Heart, according to Earle, represents the Oceans.

“It is totally fitting that you should be the first individual to be recognized because no individual has done more not just here to your country but to inspire the world as a leader,” Earle said in her speech.

Meanwhile, Remengesau also expressed his appreciation to Earle and the Mission Blue for the recognition, saying that he accepts the award on behalf of every citizen and leader of Palau who share the responsibility of protecting the oceans.

“I will accept the award this evening on behalf of every Palauan citizen, on behalf of our traditional leaders, on behalf of our elected leaders, on behalf of our civil societies and every Palauan who share in the responsibility that we must take care of the ocean, our nest of life,” Remengesau expressed.

Remengesau also emphasized during his speech the importance of partnerships in the goal of protecting the oceans.

“You are the people which give meaning to the word partnership because partnership to us is more than just a partner, it is friends, people who share the same values and people who will help get things done,” Remengesau said.

Some of the environmental policies that are passed under the Remengesau administration had been making international buzz – the most recent one being the Responsible Tourism Education Act 2018 which include a provision to ban reef-toxic sunscreens in the country starting 2020. Another policy that has been brought up during the ceremony was also Palau’s law to place 80% of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) under a no-take zone while allocating only 20% of it for domestic fishing.

A young voice boldly speaks up

Although Palau has gained international attention with its environmental policies, not every Palauan, however, is impressed. In Palau’s first Plastic Pollution Forum that was hosted by the Heirs to Our Oceans at the Koror State Assembly Hall yesterday, November 8, a young Palauan girl boldly spoke about her opinion regarding the state of Palau’s oceans, stressing that some environmental policies are actually not well enforced in Palau.

The Heirs to Our Oceans, which is composed of youth leaders promoting ocean conservation, had conducted ocean expeditions in Palau in the last two weeks where they personally collected plastic trash in the country’s waters and see what was going on in the oceans.

“I have seen a lot of changes that have happened here in Palau and it is devastating and it is something that gives me an insight that we really need to [air] our voices and we really need to make a difference for these type of situations,” the young girl said.

“Honestly, in due respect to Sylvia Earle, I do disagree that some of the things that we’ve been trying to do, like marine sanctuary that has been happening in here…I honestly happen into situations where Heirs to Our Oceans came up with opportunities to work with great people to see what’s been exactly going on in the oceans and here in Palau. And honestly, I have seen no difference in what they’ve been – in projects that they’ve been facilitating here in Palau to enforce the waters and these type of stuff[sic],” the girl expressed.

“These are honest opinions that I would like to take out – that these type of things are not actually happening and I am glad that this forum is here and is happening today and I hope that we can process a lot of things that we can make it possible with everyone in this room [sic],” the member of the Heirs to Our Ocean further stated, explaining that these policies should be enforced well in the country.

“Enforce more of these things to really happen,” the young girl said. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)