The Hatohobei Community’s Visit to Northern Waters: An Exposure Tour to the Kayangel State’s Ngeruangel Conservation Area, Republic of Palau.
Conducted by the Hatohobei State Government
with assistance by
the Community Conservation Network
Trip Report written by Marcus Hangaripaii
The Community Conservation Network (CCN) sponsored a trip for the people of Hatohobei (Tobi) to introduce them to a community marine management program that has been established in Kayangel State, the northern most territory of the Republic of Palau. Our trip was intended to expose the Tobian community to marine conservation and management programs in Palau by providing them the means to visit Kayangel’s Ngeruangel Conservation Area () and speak with the local community about the decisions they made about the area. By visiting , the CCN hoped that the Tobian community would gain some understanding of other community managed marine reserves and possibly generate some good ideas regarding conservation management for their own reefs and marine resources. CCN is currently working with the Tobi community in designing and planning a community driven conservation area for Helen Reef, which is a very rich and remote atoll in Palau’s Southwest waters.
Ngeruangel Atoll became a conservation area in 1996 when Kayangel State passed a law that designated it as a special reservation and use area. It was decided it would be closed for 3 years, then opened up for sanctioned activities only as described by the State’s own management plan for the area. That meant no fishing and no entry to the area for the entire period. After that, special uses in the area had to be permitted or allowed by the State’s Ngeruangel Management Plan. An enforcement team of local residents monitors activities at the site.
Introduction of the Hatohobei Community to the Ngeruangel Conservation Area:
On the morning of September 25, 1999 group of 25 community members from Tobi boarded Atoll Way (the Tobi State ship) at Malakal Port in Koror for a trip to visit Kayangel State’s Ngeruangel Conservation Area. The community members arrived at approximately 2:00 pm. Mr. Lerince and Mr. Ngiraked are two Conservation Officers from Kayangel met with the ship upon arrival and a brief meeting with the Tobian community was held. During the meeting, Governor Crispin Emilio asked the conservation officers couple of questions that were generated from the Tobian community. The questions asked and as well as the answers are as follows:
GOV. EMILIO: How many years since Ngeruangel became and reservation area?
NGIRAKED: It has been 3 years since Ngeruangel Reef became a reservation area.
GOV. EMILIO: What motivated or made the people of Kayangel to start thinking about control, management, or enforcement at Ngeruangel?
NGIRAKED: It is when we (Kayangel community) saw that people from all over the Republic of Palau are coming and going to Ngeruangel without ever notifying Kayangel State (Kayangel community). They (non-Kayangel people) destroyed so much of our resources.
LERINCE: Also, tourists come and dive and disturb the marine environment almost everyday and not a penny is given to our government (Kayangel) and the people. In addition, fishermen come and fish (bottom fishing and spear fishing) that also depleted too much of our reef fish and especially turtles.
NGIRAKED: These are the damages that our government as well as the community saw that prompted them to consider Ngeruangel reef a reservation area.
GOV. EMILIO: Do you think that the community is satisfied or happy with the results of their decision they made by making Ngeruangel a reservation area?
NGIRAKED: Yes, I believe that the community is very much satisfied with the outcome. And I say this because if we go to Ngeruangel today and we will soon, you will witness that there is abundance of marine resources now than three years ago. I mean, we have lots of fish and turtles and they (green turtle) are now returning to hatch on their nesting beach again. “I am very happy to see that we are gaining our resources back.”
LERINCE: “I think the community is happy with the out come that is why the State government had me go through the police academy training this past summer so that I can assist Mr. Ngiraked in enforcement and monitoring the site.”
Activities and Community Observations:
Our visit includes a trip to Ngeruangel beach (turtle hatching beach), a lagoon dive, and two dives at a different spot outside the reef. First, the community groups from Tobi visited the turtle nesting area. There were signs of about five turtle hatchings. Included on the beach were variety of sea birds and thousands of hermit crabs. Mr. Ngiraked told a local legend that the hermit crabs were humans who lived on Ngeruangel many years ago and that they were turned into hermit crabs when a man with his magic oar steered the water that caused Ngeruangel to turn over.
Second, our community group had a lagoon dive for about fifteen minutes where every diver swims to about 100 feet away from the boat and back. After the dive everyone shared what he or she saw within that 100 feet. Most divers reported having seen a lot of different kind of fish, as well as big kamedukl (bumped parrot fish). Some reported having seen fairly big size clams and signs of rich corals.
Third, the community groups were taken to the east side of Ngeruangel reef for further dive. Here, divers reported having seen a lot of um (unicorn fish). Others reported having seen three ngasech (hawksbill turtle). I also had the greatest luck not only that I came close to one, I had the opportunity to touch a ngasech on its back and the animal eased away without a sign of being threatened by my presence. That was fulfilling. The corals and the reef look very alive.
Fourth and last dive, Governor Emilio joined the community group and he reported having seen a green turtle and a ngasech. In his words, “the turtles are not scared of us humans.” Andrew also reported having seen a big size green turtle and he to indicated that the creature didn’t feel threaten by his presence. The rest of the divers reported having seen more big fish and rich marine lives. Overall, the community members expressed a very satisfactory visit in that there were a lot of things they learned from our visit to .
After our dive the community members invited the Kayangel conservation officers to a barbeque on the Atoll Way. Our trip to Ngeruangel was concluded with a visit to Kayangel Island as a courtesy of the Kayangel State Governor, who facilitated our visit and local transportation at the site. The tour of the island lasted about two hours; from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm. The community members returned to the ship at approximately 6:30 pm.
Further Discussion and Follow-up with Community:
Later that evening I followed up with more one on one talk with couple of the Tobi community members and the state officials about their thoughts and ideas about or questions they may have in mind relating to Helen Reef after the visit. These are the questions I asked them:
1) Would you consider Helen Reef as a conservation area? If so, why?
2) What did you see from that you liked the most?
3) Do you think conservation management is good for the future of Tobi community?
4) What challenges do you think Tobi community has for making Helen Reef a community managed conservation area?
When I asked the first question, every community member agreed that the idea of having Helen Reef as a conservation area is because it would mean restoring back its resources. Some community members also added that Helen Reef has lost the abundance of marine resources it once has dating back to the fifties, the sixties, the seventies, and even ten years ago. And like the people Kayangel, they know the importance of Helen Reef for Tobi community and the future generation. They believe that Helen’s marine resources can be saved and restored with a good conservation management program like in Kayangel, provided that they [the community members] give it full support and it does not prevent them from receiving, at least some, subsistence of economic benefits.
When I asked the second question, most of the people who dove at expressed their feelings about seeing a lot of marine creatures such as fish, sharks, turtles, as well as the beautiful corals they saw. As one diver states, “I remember back in Helen (late 60’s) when I lived there, fish and turtle are crazy about humans. They swim so close to you and I was scared one time. That’s how much marine life there was on Helen back then.” Another diver explained that he liked the fact that people of Kayangel State decided to protect Ngeruangel reef by saying, “now they [people of Kayangel] have plenty fish and turtle to if they need them without having to look anywhere else.” Everyone agreed that Kayangel made a very wise decision for making Ngeruangel a conservation area.
When I ask the third question, the community members agreed that making Helen Reef a conservation area is not only good for the present Tobian people, but definitely an idea one has to consider for the future of Helen Reef, as well as the future generations of Tobi. As one community member puts it, “who wouldn’t want Helen Reef ‘s resources to be restored back. A good example is . If Kayangel can do it, we [Tobians] can do it too.” “Just look at all the resources Kayangel has now as a result of closing Ngeruangel reef three years ago. Now their future generations can also enjoy the resources it has gained back.”
When I ask the fourth question, majority of group agreed that “money” plays a big factor if one wants to maintain Helen Reef as a conservation area. As one community member states, “Don’t forget, Kayangel State is very lucky because NCA is closer and so they don’t have to deal with foreign fishermen, but local ones. Helen Reef is about 390 miles south of Koror (mainland Palau) and so it would cost us [Hatohobei State] more dollars to protect. Where will we get the money for enforcement? hiring people to work and stay at Helen Island? and how about regular trips to support these people?” one person said. He also added, “yes, conservation is great, but how can we maintain conservation for a long time. We have tried so many times before and each time we try it don’t last more than 4 years.”
The community members of Hatohobei returned to Koror the very next day with great ideas and some knowledge of community conservation management program as well as many questions in mind. However, the argument about funds to support active protection seems to be a big of a problem that they have struggled with for so long. For example, there is not enough money from the Hatohobei State government to hire law enforcement personnel and have them stay down at Helen Island to keep illegal fishermen from depleting its marine resources. Another community member added, “if we (State Government) have enough money every year we could increase our presence in Helen Reef to make sure that no illegal fishing or any related activity of that kind happens.”
It seems so obvious through our conversation that people supported the idea of community management program, but along with it comes this huge doubt and the question of how can we make this happen? Also, the question of subsistence use of any marine resource at Helen is in question when one thinks of conservation. The community feared that making Helen Reef a conservation area would mean stopping any type of exploitation activity in Helen Reef.
I think, the community member’s interpreted “conservation” to mean no access to Helen Reef once it’s declared a conservation area. For example, one member raised a related question, “what would happen if people stayed on Helen Island and wants to fish for food?” Are we [conservationist] going to penalized them for doing so?” This has to do with the fact that Tobi community has a long history of using Helen Reef for subsistence activity. And today that believe is strongly embedded in the Tobian mentality. They feel that their access to Helen Reef as well as being able to continue their subsistence activity shouldn’t be jeopardized.
Other community member seems to have a problem linking conservation and economics together. Here the issue is more related to making money. This is related to some of the earlier issues where people don’t think that businesses [fishing] and other economic activity can exist in Helen Reef if it ever becomes a conservation area. The question of “money” becomes a big concern. “How can the state government generate revenue from Helen Reef?”, asked one community member. And so the question of “money” continues.
It appears that majority of Hatohobei community supports the idea of community conservation management program at Helen Reef greatly, but the question of where will they get the money to make things happen remains a challenge they are still very cognizant of and in search of.
I personally thought that the trip went very well, as I anticipated. That is because I knew what to expect out of it. But for some, it tuned out to be a disappointment because they expected something different. For example, when we visited the turtle nesting area not everyone was allowed on the beach. Some thought that everyone would stay overnight on Kayangel Island, but stayed on the ship instead. And some were not prepared for an overnight stay at all. Others were told to prepare for spear fishing after the NCA visit, but didn’t happen. This misunderstandings could have potentially been avoided with better communication and planning.
Our trip to NCA was educational, but more importantlyit was the first time community members are seriously thinking about 1) how valuable Helen Reef is to them as a community, and 2) how what other people in Palau are doing might relate to them in terms of taking control of and better managing their resources for sustainability. That is why I believe that a follow up trip of the same kind with a more in depth discussion about conservation management planning with the community. My recommendations are as follows:
If these recommendations are implemented and delivered to the community successfully, it would make the idea of conservation a lot more meaningful and plausible to them. They may also become more involved in the program. Then maybe conservation would mean more benefits and better management of resources in the long run for the future of Helen Reef and Hatohobei community.
The Tobi community members who travels aboard the Atoll Way from September 25 to September 26, 1999 to visit Kayangel’s Ngeruangel Atoll Conservation Area are listed below as follows:
Hatohobei Community members: Hatohobei State officials:
1. Obita Victor 19. Crispin Emilio, Governor
2. Furmencino Samuel 20. Franco Marcello, Legislator
3. Marcus Hangaripaii 21. Dominic Emilio, Legislator
4. Rosania Victor 22. Lorenzo Simion, Legislator
5. Sabino Sakarias 23. Ananias Victor, Legislator
6. Severy Tirso 24. Francis Victor, Legislator
7. Nixson Andrew 25. Albino Fernando, Treasurer
8. Julie Theodore
9. Jenny Jonas
10. Susan Sakarias
11. Andrew T. Andrew
12. Regina Andrew
13. Maria O. Bismarck
14. Justino Victor
15. Henry Victor
16. Tekla Emilio
17. Dexter Emilio
18. Grace Patris
On behalf of the Hatohobei community, we would like to thank CCN, the New England Biolabs Foundation and Michael Guilbeaux for arranging this educational trip. We would also like to thank the people of Kayangel for making our visit to Ngeruangel possible, enjoyable, and memorable.