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Conservation officers from nearly every state in Palau will be present at the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) April 3 through April 6 for the Palau Conservation Officers Alliance Meeting. The purpose of this meeting and workshop is to build a stronger partnership with each other, discuss their training needs and agree on strategic priorities and networking structure for the next three years.

Participants and presenters pose outside of PICRC during the Palau Conservation Officers Alliance Meeting.

The ongoing meeting is the first of two annual meetings for State conservation officers, as part of their ongoing effort to assist states in improving their enforcement capacity. The second meeting is tentatively scheduled in October. Their plan is to develop short and specific monthly trainings on key priority topics, identified by the conservation officers to assist in enhancing their enforcement capacity.

Tobi State Delegate Wayne Andrew is a volunteer for the effort and gave an explanation of the current state of conservation law enforcement: “In the past, conservation was enforced as and by the community. The rules that were in place were there to help us sustainably manage our resources… But as we transition from that to constitutional government, we were set up with state governments that had the mandate to do, basically, the same thing. A lot of the state governments have the mandate, but not necessarily the resources and capacity to do the enforcement.

About a year ago, we started with the workshops and were looking at legislation to increase the fines for poaching dugong. At the meeting, it was highlighted that we didn’t necessarily need more fines– what we needed was effective enforcement of the current conservation laws. We needed more officers who were adequately trained and the resources for them to go out and enforce the laws we had in place.”

New to the conservation law meeting were five rangers from Melekeok State: Jasper Ongino, Bud Thomas, Eric Mongami, Brian Erungel and Stanton Semdiu. “This training will help us, as Melekeok rangers, to protect our ocean for future generation,” said ranger Stanton Semdiu. “So far, we’ve learned a lot. We’re still catching up, but we’re making definite progress for Melekeok’s conservation effort.”

Conservation Officer Hadley Renguul, from Ngerchelong State, was at PICRC for his third workshop and says he has noticed a definite improve in the conservation effort for his state, thanks to the knowledge he has gained from attending the workshops. “Ngerchelong has had conservation laws on the books as far back as 2000, but didn’t have the conservation officers to enforce the laws until around 2003 or 2004.”

According to Officer Renguul, Ngerchelong state has four conservation officers– two of whom, including himself, have attending the training. “These workshops showed us how to go about acquiring the authority to do our jobs. December 23, 2011 we were deputized and can now fully enforce these laws for Ngerchelong state. We’ve learned the correct processes and protocol to properly do our jobs.”

The meetings and trainings are also seeking out ways for conservation officers from various states to better collaborate and have a more broad understanding every state’s conservation laws, thus streamlining the enforcement process; getting the message out to the public that conservation law officers are like any other law officers and bring uniformity to the conservation law officers in terms of their presence.

This ongoing effort is supported and coordinated by the Palau Locally Managed Marine Area Network (Palau LMMA), Pacific Islands Marine Protected Areas Community (PIMPAC) and Micronesian Conservation Trust (MCT).