Palau adamant youth get a seat at the table in Our Ocean conference


Palau’s Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Environment Steven Victor says it is significant for Palau to be the first small island developing state to host a large event like Our Ocean.

The conference opens in Palau today and more than 500 delegates from upwards of 80 countries are expected to attend.

“We are one of the few countries in the world that bans deep-sea mining, we ban bottom trawling, we have established the first nationwide national marine sanctuary, we ban purse seine fishing on and free-floating FADs (fish aggregation devices),” Victor said.

“I thank the U.S for working alongside Palau to organise this event. The production itself requires a lot of technical expertise as well as resources.”

He said the event programme is inclusive of everyone’s concerns and that allows for dialogue.

“The two big differences in this Our Ocean conference is that a youth delegate will be incorporated within the conference.

“Number one, before the conference, a youth delegate forum will be held and the resolution made in that talanoa will be delivered to the conference. We believe the youth are the future of our planet and they are the future of the ocean. Therefore, we believe that they need to be engaged in the conversation with leaders as well as the private sector, so they have been incorporated into the conference.

“And number two, we are in a Pacific Island and we felt that ensuring that the indigenous voice is incorporated within the conference, and as we know, based on a lot of studies, that indigenous-driven conservation is sustainable and has a long-term benefit.

“This conference will have an …. area around the indigenous leadership, so I think those are two key differences that the United States and Palau have partnered to develop within the Our Ocean conference,” Victor said.

“For us in the Pacific, a lot of what drives us to achieve conservation is our traditional ecological knowledge practices. These are things our ancestors and our parents did in the past to ensure that we have and still have the ocean and marine resources that we have today and that continues to drive how many other Pacific Islands as well as many indigenous community’s sort of view conservation.

“We are presented with a challenge of how do we make sure that we are balancing production and protection,” he said.

“Too much production is not good for the environment and too much protection is also not good for the socio-economic well-being of communities so we need to find the balance between protection and production.

“For Palau, that’s kind of our focus and priority in this conference is to ensure that dialogue happens and that we walk away with a more a greater appreciation of the need to have that conversation around production and protection,” he said.

He said we are at a juncture at this ocean conference where we are realising some of the weaknesses of having an 80 percent closure and we need to readjust that.

Victor said there’s a lot of noise out in the Palauan community and globally that readjusting 80 percent is rolling back conservation but that is essentially not what we are trying.

“We are trying to ensure that the policy, as well as management, is durable, and being durable means it has to balance production and protection.”

He said there’s too much emphasis on the protection that is causing socio-economic hardship to the people of Palau and we believe that Palau has already a lot of policies in place that protect the ocean.

“So essentially, the whole of Palau is a sanctuary, we are simply readjusting a domestic zone that becomes financially viable that then can generate revenue to support management and to support the people of Palau, and so that it becomes a durable policy that has durable conservation benefits and durable contribution to Palau’s economy.”

Victor said while the pandemic has been a great challenge for the whole world he saw it as an opportunity to reset how we view nature.

“Many of us during the pandemic went back to relying on nature for our sustenance and to me, that is the essential ‘why’ we do conservation is to help support the communities.”

“Three years ago when we talked about the need for balance, production, and protection, many people didn’t believe that we will come to a point where our food supply will run out.

Just a year ago, we were realising that today, making conservation a much more critical discussion to be held and ensuring that we are balancing production with protection because it is the resource that we fall back into in times of hardships. It is the resource that helps generate income for indigenous communities while it is maybe small, it is a constant source of income that protects and helps families,” he said.

“To me, it’s the safety net that we need to protect but making sure that protection and production are balanced so that it does not become a hardship to indigenous communities and coastal communities,” Victor said.