On Friday, Jan. 23, 2015, an unveiling ceremony was held at the Yap International Airport terminal to commemorate Yap state’s stance on shark protection and marine conservation. The short ceremony commenced seven minutes after 3 p.m. in the afternoon, in the waiting area/arrivals entrance of the airport terminal.
Attending the event were leaders of the Yap State Government — the 9th Yap State Legislature, the Office of the Governor, the Council of Pilung, and the Council of Tamol — the Yap Fishing Authority, Yap Community Action Program, Marine Resources Management Division, Yap Environmental Protection Agency, airport management as well as the representative of the project’s spearheading entity, the Micronesia Conservation Trust or MCT.
Master of ceremony Tim Ruda, also an employee of the airport management, opened the ceremony by welcoming everyone and then introducing MCT’s capacity-building program manager Betty Tulensa Sigrah.
After offering her salutations on behalf of herself and MCT Executive Director Willy Kostka to the gathered state leaders and entities, Sigrah began her remarks by emphasizing the momentous occasion, as it showed a unified understanding of the importance of ocean resources and a unified commitment to safeguard those resources.
She shared that an estimated 100 million sharks are killed annually. Sharks are a crucial part of the marine ecosystem and island heritage; as such, several Pacific and Asian nations have made commitments to save sharks in recent years, including, among others, the Cook Islands. French Polynesia, the Marshall Islands, and popularly Palau.
She went on to share the history leading to the occasion, starting from the commitment of the 2011 Micronesian Chief Executive Summit to create a Micronesian shark sanctuary, to the Pacific movement for more shark protection.
Within the Federated States of Micronesia, the four states have worked on legislations concerning shark protection — starting with Kosrae in 2012, Pohnpei and Yap in 2013, and Chuuk in 2014 — with the ultimate goal of having the entire FSM declared a shark sanctuary.
She shared that national legislation for such an act is currently under review with the FSM attorney general, and bids Yap to request the [resident for a swift declaration of the FSM shark sanctuary. She acknowledged the many collaborations along the way that made the entire endeavor possible, and also recognized Yap Community Action Program for its work in Yap.
On behalf of the 9th Legislature of the State of Yap, Speaker Theodore “Ted” Rutun spoke next. He thanked Betty for coming to all the way to Yap, and expressed his gratitude to her and MCT for their commitment to saving the sharks and safeguarding natural heritage.
He noted that the unveiling of the message board at the airport will reveal a whole lot — mainly to incoming visitors and the public that Yap recognizes and protects its sharks and marine resources. Speaker Rutun stated that Yap already has a law in place providing for the protection of sharks as well as whales and dolphins — Yap State Law 8-44 — since June 17, 2013.
He also shared that another conservation measure concerning the humphead wrasse is pending with Legislature.
However, Speaker Rutun cautioned that despite protective legislation, active patrolling and surveillance of FSM waters is essential for such measures to be effective, and bids MCT and the national government to set up such a system, especially in Yap state’s vast marine territory.
He also requested of MCT to share identified endangered species so that Yap may also work to protect them.
Following the speaker’s remarks was Lt. Gov. James Yangetmai’s witty speech. After joking that his first remarks after becoming the lt. governor was this unveiling, he assured everyone that he will not forget the memorable occasion.
He recognized the speaker, representatives of the Council of Pilung and the Council of Tamol, Mrs. Sigrah and the gathering to the occasion.
He shared his childhood memory in Ifalik Atoll and how even then he was taught to respect sharks; sharks are an inherent part of the island heritage and marine ecosystem. He then thanked everyone responsible for the momentous undertaking.
After the remarks, the unveiling of the message board took place, with refreshments provided. Within the arrivals area and above one of the customs tables of the terminal was the board. With a background of a traditional meeting house on one side and several sharks swimming in the deep ocean on the other, the message on the board reads, “Welcome to Yap, where sharks are protected — Healthy Reefs Need Sharks.” On the bottom right corner are the symbols for MCT, Yap state government and the Pew Charitable Trusts.
More than 8,000 Micronesian students have signed a petition in support of national FSM shark protections. The signers come from all four states of the FSM, Palau, the Northern Marianas, the Marshall Islands, and Guam.
“The first step in protecting sharks is putting a strong law in place. We are so pleased that Yap is showcasing their state shark protection law. We sincerely hope that the National Congress will soon follow suit and protect sharks in FSM’s full EEZ by passing a law this session,” said Willy Kostka, executive director for the Micronesia Conservation Trust.
For more information on the Micronesia Conservation Trust, visit its website at www.ourmicronesia.org/.