“The strength and beauty of sharks are a natural barometer for the health of our oceans. Therefore, I declare today that Palau will become the world’s first national shark sanctuary, ending all commercial shark fishing in our waters and giving a sanctuary for sharks to live and reproduce unmolested in our 237,000 square miles of ocean. We call upon all nations to join us.” Johnson Toribiong, President of Palau, 9/25/09.
Below is President Toribiong’s entire speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, September 25, 2009, in which he declared Palau as the WORLD’S FIRST NATIONAL SHARK SANCTUARY. I urge you to read this excellent speech and to then send a Thank You Note to President Toribiong commending him for his unprecedented actions to protect sharks and other marine creatures.
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U.N. SPEECH: United Nations General Assembly, New York, September 25, 2009
Mr. President, Mr. Secretary-General, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am speaking here for the first time as a Head of State. However, in 1977, I appeared with my country’s delegation before the Trusteeship Council seeking independence. In 1994, the Trusteeship ended and we took our place as a member of the United Nations. Our independence is testament to the success of the International Trusteeship System, for which we are grateful. The legacy of our experience is a Constitution which incorporates the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights — freedom, democracy, equal protection, rule of law.
Palauans have lived throughout history in symbiosis with the sea. We are seeing now though that the sea, which has long been the source of our sustenance, is both rising in rage to destroy us and becoming barren. This fury was caused by the abuses of humankind and we therefore need to take every action necessary to allow the oceans to heal themselves.
In days gone by, the traditional chiefs of Palau would declare a “bul” – a moratorium to protect a resource which had become scarce. This traditional concept, now popularly known as conservation, shows the way for us to move forward. As Mahatma Gandhi said, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed. “ This is why the world must declare a bul on destructive fishing practices like deep sea bottom trawling, unsustainable harvesting of shark for their fins and overexploitation of tuna stocks.
The odious fishing practice of bottom trawling, where a weighted net is dragged along the sea floor crushing nearly everything in its path, is contributing to the rapid loss of a critical ecosystem, our coral reefs. We have outlawed deep sea bottom trawling in Palau, but no matter what we do in our own waters, there must be an international solution.
For several years, we have advocated, along with our Pacific neighbors, a moratorium on this practice. The Sustainable Fisheries resolution adopted by the UN in 2007, urged nations and regional fisheries management organizations to stop trawling in sensitive areas by 2009. We have waited for compliance, which has not come, and now renew our call for a worldwide moratorium on this practice.
An equally destructive fishing practice is shark-finning. We have banned it in Palau and call upon the world to address this issue in order to save the sharks from extinction.
The strength and beauty of sharks are a natural barometer for the health of our oceans. Therefore, I declare today that Palau will become the world’s first national shark sanctuary, ending all commercial shark fishing in our waters and giving a sanctuary for sharks to live and reproduce unmolested in our 237,000 square miles of ocean. We call upon all nations to join us.
It is anomalous that Palau is experiencing economic difficulty while it sits in the middle of the richest waters in the world. We can no longer stand by while foreign vessels illicitly come to our waters to take our greatest resource, our tuna stocks, without regard to their conservation and without regard for adequate compensation to the island states which rely on this resource.
Palau believes that the best model for a regional effort to conserve our tuna resources and maximize the benefits to us is the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). I therefore will work for the establishment of OTEC, the Organization of Tuna Exporting Countries, and I now call upon our friends in OPEC to come forward and help us to understand and obtain fair value from our threatened resource and to make tuna fishing sustainable.
I come now to the economic crisis which my country is facing. As a developing nation, we are grateful for the grants provided by our allies and partners to advance our development. They have been helpful. But, we must acknowledge that outright grants do not always create meaningful employment. Jobs created are illusory and temporary.
Without a strong local economy, our children, our most valuable resource, are leaving our shores for opportunities elsewhere. As they leave it creates a continuing downward cycle which we must stop.
Our allies and partners can help us stop this cycle by promoting the development of private enterprise in our country. We need capital, and entrepreneurial expertise. I implore our allies and partners to consider providing incentives to their nationals to encourage them to come to our islands and launch partnerships with our talented people to create a viable economy. Let us once and for all put aside the fiction that we need handouts. What we need are partners to help advance our economy and put an end to the out-migration of our people.
We note with satisfaction the decision by the People’s Republic of China to invite Taiwan to attend the World Health Assembly. The health and safety of the world’s people is at the heart of the ideals of the UN. In order to further promote these, we recommend that Taiwan be invited to participate meaningfully in the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and other international organizations.
We have heard the voices of world leaders from countries small and large, powerful and vulnerable. We have heard the voice of science. Let us heed these voices, fulfill our obligations to our people, and work for a strong economy and a healthy planet.