Is Palau threatened by the Global Warming?

Global Warming… should we be concerned? What is this phenomenon? As Palauans and islanders, are we in danger from the Global Warming or Climate Change? Do we need to address this issue whether our island home is threatened or not? Do any fellow Palauans know what this phenomenon is in relation to our future? Are the recent weather conditions that have devastated other parts of the world, not to mention the loss of lives, have anything to do with this phenomenon? Are we seeing or experiencing any damaging effects caused by this event on our home turf?

Jump into the canoe as I take you on a journey from the beginning stages of how I came to understand this phenomenon that eventually made me a believer of the destructive effect of Climate Change.

Fifteen years or so I had no idea what Global Warming or Climate Change was until just recently. At the time myself and friends’ ambition was to make money and ways to reach that end. As a Palauan the island offered resources toward that goal and I quickly grabbed it with my fellow loyal friends and colleagues with gusto. The course we took was not an easy one and as young and beginning entrepreneurs we encountered many obstacles having to rely on our wits and slight expertise in climbing the mountain side.

We discovered that one of the island’s resources which are the corals was a great way to make money. There was a lot to be made from the culturing of corals over fifteen years ago and with Palau devoid of laws regulating the aquarium aspect of the trade we were in complete bliss with plans of expanding the technology throughout Palau. Four years into the production, we were stopped short from a law enacted without at the very least interviewing us young Palauans involved in the trade.

I still vividly remember a former government official in high position telling me to my face across the President’s conference table… “you are making too much money.” My reply was,… “Mr. President, are you asking us this question,… because if one is in business not to make money than we are certainly in the wrong business?”… wherefore the top man reacted immediately saying something to the effect that the individual did not mean what was said.

Eventually, with all matters put aside, we closed shop on December 15, 1995 due to the difficulty of meeting the law’s directives resulting in signing the last paycheck and releasing nine locals and sending most of the 22 foreigners working for the company back to their homeland. The big boss absorbed loans and credits from six of the nine locals before releasing them including all the company debts amounting to more than 80 thousand US dollars.

We got lost, especially the top brasses, and a couple of us came close to taking that dangerous step thus walking into the light but luckily such demise was prevented from becoming so by a colleague who made frequent home visits and able to talk us out of such dire action. Slowly we pulled ourselves back from the brink of disaster by going back to what we know best in the tourism and publication aspect of our field for the next five years. By November 1999, the big bossman informed those that were still loyal that the debt is and was paid in full.

For those who are familiar with the Japanese Samurai legend of the 40 ronins, compress their years into ours from 1996 to 1999 and you will at least grasp the destitution each of us went through. Committing the last act of a desperate man was never far away and always at the periphery of our vision. Without the strength of each of our loyal friends we would probably be underneath six feet of dirt today.

By the beginning of this century, luck struck us and we were approach by a loyal friend of Palau who was stricken by the change for the worse Palau Island was experiencing. This individual agreed to support us as a non-profit if we can convince him that what we do in terms of culturing corals can indeed help with nature itself and somehow bring back what Palau has lost during the years he has visited the island.

For the last five years we have gained extensive knowledge into the coral world through the non-profit organization. We also discovered that corals are in an equal level with the rain forest as gathered from scientific reports. Viola,… Global Warming and Climate Change came into the picture and the end result is not a pretty sight.

Although Palau has less land, its surrounding waters contains a wide-ranging area suitable for the culturing of corals that can help with the Climate Change by discharging Oxygen into the air to negate the Carbon Dioxide build-up trapped within the earth’s atmosphere causing what is termed as the Green House Effect resulted from the high temperature increase caused by this phenomenon. From this technology, Palau can make a difference and impart to the world and the rest of the countries her part in the fight against Global Warming, not to mention the struggle to save herself from the approaching rising of the tides.

The question now is “what are corals?” To quote Barnes, R.D., 1987; Lalii and Parsons, 1995… “Corals are anthozoans, the largest class of organisms within the phylum Cnidaria. Comprising over 6,000 known species, anthozoans also include sea fans, sea pansies and anemones. Stony corals (scleractinians) make up the largest order of anthozoans, and are the group primarily responsible for laying the foundations of, and building up, reef structures. For the most part, scleractinians are colonial organisms composed of hundreds to hundreds of thousands of individuals, called polyps.”

“Coral reefs are among the most diverse and productive communities on Earth. They are found in the warm, clear, shallow waters of tropical oceans worldwide. Reefs have functions ranging from providing food and shelter to fish and invertebrates to protecting the shore from erosion. Through symbiosis with unicellular algae (zooxanthellae), reef-building corals are the source of primary production in reef communities,” (Richmond 1993).

No one doubts that the Earth is the most beautiful planet in our solar system. Various shades of brown, green and white encased in turquoise blue – it is our EARTH, our HOME and our MOTHER. So far, it is the ONLY PLANET in our solar system where water exists in a liquid form. Water covers more than 70% of the total planet, more than 362,000,000 square kilometers (140,000,000 square miles).

When the water is exceedingly deep or very cold or terribly polluted or that the water current is not adequate for the survival of their growth, it limits the expanse of area of growth therefore corals can only grow in less than 0.1%”. The effect of the EL Nino and La Nina, especially in the between years 1996 to 1998, decimated the Corals by nearly fifty percent. Studies showed that this phenomenon will occur more often in the future than in the past due to Global Warming. This year 2007 we are probably faced once again with the El Nino.

Climate Change… what is climate change? On the United States Environmental Protection Agency it defines climate change as “any significant change in measures of climate such as temperature, precipitation or wind lasting for an extended period.” Used interchangeably with global warming, climate change is the preferred terminology by the National Academy of Sciences because it clarifies the possibilities of other changes apart from rising temperature.

To quote What’sOn & Expat weekly newspaper for international readers volume XXVI No. 6 (February 11-17, 2007),… “Climate Change is an effect brought about by the greenhouse effect, a consequence wherein the burning of fossil fuels and certain gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide trap the heat within the earth’s atmosphere instead of the heat radiating back to space.”

The paper went on to quote the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon saying in a statement that “it is the poor in Africa and developing small island states and elsewhere who will suffer the most, even though they are the least responsible for global warming.” Al Gore’s film “an inconvenient truth” brought to the public’s attention that the earth’s temperature is on the rise and at an alarming rate at that.

Palau President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., during the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, in his address said… “Palau as a Pacific Island Nation, is proud of and humbled by the splendor with which we have been graced. However, we find ourselves increasingly isolated and vulnerable to the impacts of globalization. Like most small developing island nations, we are working diligently to take our place as a member of the global economy. However, we lack the tools and the capacity that larger nations have to bridge the gap from developing to developed status. This vulnerability is further intensified by the adverse impacts of climate change. As an additional challenge, we are, by our very nature, economically isolated from the global community and have limited access to the resources needed to bridge this gap.”

President Remengesau, Jr., also stated to the assembly that… “Clearly, there has been some progress over the past few years in the international community to recognize the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of the small island developing countries, to move away from the fictional notion that economies such as ours operate under the same conditions as those of the developed world. We have been studied, analyzed, dissected, and finally reported on to higher bodies. We are thankful. We are now defined. It is now time to move forward, and put into place the appropriate mechanism to allow us to fully implement the recommendations that have been made. What we need are no longer suggestions and recommendations. What we need are tools – tools that only you can give us.”

We are behind this young leader in a bold venture toward our part in helping with the reduction of the Global Warming effect. We are short of the tools we need to tackle and push forward the bold scheme we have in mind in an effort to help with the lessening effect of the Global Warming, a phenomenon that effects mankind, especially the small islands.

The small islands scattered within the great oceans are in the forefront of disappearance and fighting for their very lives. President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., aptly spoke to the assemblage in the Johannesburg World Summit saying that,… “It is well past time for the developed nations to recognize that their industrial activities have had, and will continue to have, a great and real impact on other. In 1997 and 1998, Palau lost at least one-third of its coral reefs due to climate change related weather patterns. We also lost most of our agricultural production due to drought and extreme high tides. Please do no tell us that these were theoretical scientific losses. They were the losses of our resources and our livelihoods. Eventually they will be the loss of our cultural existence as well.”

The President went on to say in his speech at Johannesburg,… “Let us underline our efforts here in Johannesburg not because the eyes of the world are upon us but because there is a genuine love of the earth in all of us. Standing here together today, we can change and better our destiny. We can overcome the greed of past centuries and fulfill the needs of all of our children”

Scientists are probably unable to determine which parts of the world will become wetter or drier or they can make a good estimation, but there is likely to be an overall trend toward increased precipitation and evaporation, more intense rainstorms, and drier soils as have been recently witnessed. Unfortunately, many of the potentially most important impacts depend upon whether rainfall increases or decreases, which cannot be reliably projected for specific areas.

Still, many of the islands and atolls scattered within the oceans and terrestrial coastlines will be submerged in the years to come. The island people are faced with a life and death situation where our very existence is balanced on a tight wire. Our young President stated in his closing speech that… “Yet our destinies may very well be the window to your own future and the future of our planet. Listen to us – hear our alarm. We are under attack – not by our enemies, but by our friends. We do not blame you. We only seek your assistance, for your own good as well as ours.”

Whether Global Warming is real or not,… whether you are a believer or unbeliever,… at least let us put aside our differences for the time being and work together before we lose both the canoe and the turtle. Or for that matter,… make an effort to do away Angaur’s well-known idiom… “ou kululau ra metemellang”… and fulfill the needs of all of our children today and tomorrow.

By JeRome Temengil

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5 Responses to “Is Palau threatened by the Global Warming?”

  1. JT,

    yours is a great piece that hopefully many our fellow citizens gets to read and understand its implications and consequences. Like you, my understanding and concept of Global Warming years ago was non-existent. I want to point out though, the challenge of overcoming People’s pessimisms and ignorant view’s of this issue.

    I’ve lived in Detroit for many years now, and as you know, we’re the Motor Capital of the world. When President Bush pulled out of the kyoto treaty in 2000, Many people said it was to protect the ‘BIG THREE’, (ford,chrysler and GM). There was elation in Detroit and from then on, we started producing unbelievable number of gas gusslers such as suv’s,truck’s and big cars to satisfy the demand of consumers who at the time didn’t mind the gas prices. I remember Al Gore even cancelled his speaking engagement at one time to show his dissatifaction with the auto industry. So that was then, Now our BIG Three and their suppliers are either at or near bankruptcy and are struggling to turn a profit in a changed industry. What changed? The consumers now are paying attention to emission level in cars and of course gas prices. This is where Toyota and other foreign car companies have excelled in and continue to dominate the US market nowadays with environmentally friendly cars that are cheap and dependable.

    These kind of changes, while slow at times, are good examples of how a society can change for the better. I cant see how we can convince a fisherman from kayangel that someday his island state might be overtaken by water but someone has got to try. I’ve went and seen the Documentary by Al Gore, it was an eye opening testament and hopefully everyone in Palau gets a chance to see it. Our Conservation Society should work on educating the public with this film and many other great tools out there in the public forum.

    I have many admirations for our President and by him talking about this issue, its not only shows its importance, it also brings it to our citizen’s attention. Like you said JT, our neighbours and friends must help us but we as a nation must speak with one voice. I’d like to believe that 10 or 20 years from now, my favorite beach in front of my father’s house in artingal will be there for me but i think not. I know i’ll lose the beach for sure, but i’m hoping to keep the house.

    yorosku to all,

    soul

  2. Gentlemen,
    Thank you for your insightful articles and comments. As a wannabe fisherman, I’ve been making time to go to Despedall, in Ngaraard where I am from as much as I can. Growing up there and being exposed to the area, I can recall clearly the landscape and my familiar childhood stomping grounds. There some changes that may or may not be directly related to Global Warming that greatly concern me.

    Specifically, I have noticed the waterline moving further up and actually causing many of the large coconut palms near the beaches to fall into the ocean. These are trees that were planted there many years ago; probably some of them even older than I am. I’m posting this to the attention of Kambes or the other notable marine scientists at the PICRC to see if they can refer us to some information on this and to show wheter or not this is due to rising sea levels and its general effects on shorelines or just changes in the currents in the areas in Despedall.

    Again, just a personal observation but I have noticed significant changes in the last couple of years. Please provide some information if possible. Thank you and pardon the ignorance on this topic.

    • Regarding your observation of the shoreline on Palau, the place you grew-up, it is evident that the world is now experiencing the effect of Global warming by the rising sea-level, however this is just the tip of the iceberg. It is not only our tiny island, but through out the world. Evidence that have urged one of the top US official (Al Gore) to fight for green-house-effect and to find alternative ways for energy. If i may add pls not the following article:
      In the simplest terms, global warming is just what it sounds like: the worldwide rise in surface temperatures. The National Academy of Science has put the rise at 1 degree F over the course of the 20th century, but measurements from satellites of both land and sea surfaces are showing that the rate of warming is increasing sharply.

      It’s more than just surface temperatures that are going up, however. A lot of research into temperature changes in the upper layers of the atmosphere, as well as the deep oceans, is showing warming. Then, there are the more obvious signs: the rapid retreat of glaciers in Greenland, Alaska, the Himalaya, the Antarctic Peninsula and on high tropical mountains; the thinning and disappearance of sea ice in the Arctic Ocean during summer; the melting of permafrost in Canada, Alaska and Siberia; and the rise of sea level and an increase in extreme weather.

      The cause of global warming is what’s called the “greenhouse effect.” That’s shorthand for the ability of gases in the atmosphere to slow down the release of heat into space at night. Some gases are better at this than others. Carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide are the top three “greenhouse gases.” They are very good at absorbing sunlight and converting that energy into heat – rather like a rock does just sitting in the sun.

      Surprisingly, the greenhouse effect isn’t a bad thing. It’s essential for life on Earth – when it’s not too vigorous. If not for the greenhouse effect, the temperature on the surface of Earth would be like that of the airless moon – swinging wildly from 225 degrees F (107 C) during the day to -243 degrees F (-153 C) at night. Not a good place for life.

      The greenhouse effect is only troublesome when it gets too strong and warms things too much. And that’s just what scientists say has happened over the last 150 years or so as the people of industrialized nations have extracted Earth’s vast buried stores of fossil fuels and burned them. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide has increased nearly 30 percent, methane has more than doubled, and the nitrous oxide concentration is up about 15 percent. All those extra greenhouse gases mean more and more solar energy is being trapped in the atmosphere, exacerbating the greenhouse effect and making things warmer.

      The result: 2005 was Earth’s warmest year in a century, according to NASA climatologists. The years 1998, 2002, 2003 and 2004 were the next four runners-up. The year 2005 was also a record-breaking year for Atlantic hurricanes in which the coastal city of New Orleans – made all the more vulnerable because of sea level rise – was almost wiped off the map by Hurricane Katrina.

      Of course, because the effects of global warming on local climates are very complicated, it remains to be seen exactly how different regions will feel the heat.

      “Global warming is a term that’s extremely useful when you’re running a planet,” says John Cox, author of the book Climate Crash. “But it’s regional change that affects people. It’s the wet and cold and hot and dry.”

      That’s why climate modelers are constantly refining their simulations, and climate scientists continue to refine our view of past climate changes to create a better idea of what to expect.

  3. Alii Kamb

    Very interesting discussions. Thanks for sharing them with me.

    During the past 100 years, sea level has risen 10-25 cm so I doubt that what Semdiu is describing is due to sea level rise. What Semdiu is describing is probably due to erosion of land and not sea level rise. A more interesting question is whether the erosion to the shoreline is a natural process or is the rate of erosion to the shorelines increasing due to construction activities that has altered currents and winds hitting the shoreline.

    For those interested in how sea level rise might affect our reefs, you can read chapter 2 of our book, “Coral Reefs of Palau”. (It is a very good book and all the chapters are good) In chapter 2, Dr. Hazime Kayanne described his work on the barrier reef here in Palau that showed reef crest to be accumulating at a rate of 22 cm/100 years. The predicted rate of sea level rise in the next 100 years range from 10-90 cm depending on the level of CO2 emissions. With higher CO2 emissions, sea level rise would be higher. So if sea level rise will be lower than 22 cm/100 years, our reef would be able to keep up with the sea level rise since they growing at 22 cm/100 years. But if we get higher than that, our reefs might not be able to survive the sea level rise.

    Chapter 3 of the same book talks about the devastation to our reefs from the 1998 bleaching and the recovery that is taking place. The lesson we learn from the recovery is that coral reefs will able to recover naturally, even from such a major damage if the conditions for coral reef growth are maintained to allow such recovery. We are lucky that we still have enough herbivores fish (fish that eat the algae ) to control the growth of algae so corals can have open space to grow. If there were no herbivores fish, the reefs would be covered with algae and it would make it harder for young corals to find places to grow. We also still have relatively clean waters ( with the exception of few places in Babeldaob) that allow coral larvae (baby corals) to detect a suitable place for them to grow and not be smothered by sediment.

    There are disturbances that is hard for us to control, such as El Ninio, storms, crown-of-thorns outbreaks, etc but we can control the conditions that allow our reefs to recover after such disturbance. We can focus on leaving some herbivores on the reefs, making sure we minimize sediments going to the reefs and ensuring the quality of our waters. If we focus on these things, our coral reefs will be able to recover from natural disturbance that we can not control.

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