Today we visited the stone monoliths of Ngarchelong, overlooking some of the state’s rich reefs and fishing grounds. Then, we toured the taro fields of the hamlet of Ollei. The success of these fields is highly dependent on management of the fresh water resources that begin at the ridge line and eventually flow to the ocean. The women manage all land and freshwater resources and ensure a supply of clean water for the taro fields which are vital to the sustenance of the village.
After returning to Koror, we visited with the Council of Chiefs, which consists of the highest chief from each state. This was a tremendous honor for us as students. The chiefs answered many of our questions and invited us to continue partnering with the traditional leaders to help with conservation efforts. The question I posed to the chiefs was whether they welcome tourism in their states. They overwhelmingly responded positively to tourism and development as long as it is controlled and benefits Palauans. Many of the chiefs have business interests in dive shops, restaurants, construction companies, and stores that directly benefit from tourism and development. Instead of seeing this as a conflict of interests, I got the sense that this is helping to control the rate of development to coincide with traditional beliefs. NgiraKebou Roman Bedor, the High Chief of Ngchesar State described the environment as the Nest of Life and very eloquently spoke of Palauans’ relationship with the land and sea as unable to exist without each other.
We then met with Tiare Holm from Ngardmau State and other stakeholders to discuss the state’s 2011 sea cucumber harvest and its social, economic, and environmental impacts. Sea cucumbers are a Palauan resource with incredible financial potential, and are at risk from foreign investors coming in and depriving Palau of the economic benefits of the resource by providing state managers with asymmetric information about the costs and benefits of harvest.
Finally, NgiraKebou Roman Bedor treated us to a spectacular meal of locally caught blue fin tuna, yellowfin tuna, and sashimi at his home. Here, we discussed the political struggle within Palau regarding the terms of the Compact of Free Association with the United States. Roman Bedor was an instrumental politician and lawyer during the negotiations and shared his insights and views of the outcome. We also discussed environmental conservation and the relationship between traditional and representative governments in finding solutions to conservation issues. Today was a long day packed with amazing experiences, tremendous lessons, and the honor of being the personal guests of the High Chiefs.