Changing Planet

Palau: Leading by Example

If there is one country that leads by example, it’s Palau.

This is a strong country, one that was a battleground for World War II, it has survived typhoons and earthquakes, and still the Palauans persevere. While their culture shows some Western influence, Palauan traditions remain steadfast. They thrive in one of the most beautiful, pristine places on the planet, and over hundreds of years have developed mechanisms to manage its natural resources. For example, if local fish populations become overfished, local chiefs may implement a bul – a temporary resting period to allow for certain species to reproduce.

An old Japanese fighter is now home to corals and fishes. (Photo by Enric Sala)
An old Japanese fighter is now home to corals and fishes. (Photo by Enric Sala)

Earth Day is a newer tradition in Palau, but it is gaining momentum. This year the theme is “Our Turn to Lead,” with a host of events taking place over the course of a week surrounding Earth Day and the entire community is involved.

To kick it off this past weekend, a community-wide coastal cleanup event removed debris from Palau’s coastline. It became clear to me that all members of the Palauan community, including families and students, take tremendous pride in their environment. It was a Saturday morning they rolled up their sleeves, endured the hot sun and picked up trash.

The group of volunteers gathers for a quick photo with the “Our Turn to Lead” banner before heading off to their coastal cleanup sites, kicking off 2015 Earth Day events in Koror, Palau. Photo by Maggie Hines.

And this is just the beginning! A walk/run on Earth Day will take place before dawn – with registration at 4:30AM so that participants can get going before the heat and humidity become unbearable. Then, on Friday, an Earth Day Fair will showcase key organizations in Palau working on environmental issues.

We can’t wait to premiere our documentary film “Return to Paradise” as part of these Earth Day celebrations, where gorgeous underwater footage from our 2014 Pristine Seas expedition to Palau will be screened for the first time. And if the Palauan people create a no take marine sanctuary encompassing 80% of their marine waters, they will make good on their pledge of global leadership with concrete action. They will, indeed, become the unprecedented leaders in conservation by preserving more of their country than anyone else in the world.

Maggie Hines is the program specialist for National Geographic's Pristine Seas project. She works with Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Enric Sala on all aspects of the Pristine Seas project, including planning and executing expeditions to the most remote places on the planet. A Virginia native, her summers were spent on the Chesapeake Bay at her grandmother’s house and on the shores of North Carolina. Maggie received a B.A. in Studio Art with a concentration in photography, and a B.B.A. in Management with a concentration in technology, innovation and entrepreneurship from James Madison University.

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