1995 Goldman Prize winner Noah Idechong, hailing from the island nation of Palau, recently stopped by the Goldman Prize office in San Francisco, where he gave us a great update on his work and what he has been up to since winning the Prize almost 20 years ago.
Palau is an archipelago of 340 islands located in the Pacific Ocean, 600 miles east of the Philippines. Approximately 700 species of coral and over 1,400 species of fish are found in Palau’s waters, making it one of the most biologically rich marine areas on earth.
Idechong was awarded the Prize in 1995 for his work to create an innovative model of marine conservation that combines traditional and modern knowledge. He convinced the chiefs of Palau to reinstate age old conservation traditions known as bul, which limited fishing in the spawning channels within the villages’ reefs.
When he won the Prize, Idechong was serving as director of Palau Conservation Society, which was the island’s only NGO at the time. In 1997, Idechong received a Pew Fellowship to pursue the application of traditional management practices in the waters of northern Palau.
Seeking greater influence over government policy, Idechong campaigned for and was elected to Palau National Congress in 2000, where he served for the next 12 years. While serving in congress, Idechong oversaw the drafting and implementation of various environmental and conservation laws. The most significant of which was the Protected Areas Network Act (PAN), which took effect in 2003.
While visiting with Goldman Prize staff, Idechong explained the sustainable financing mechanism that keeps the PAN working. Tourists who visit Palau pay a “green” exit fee that provides funding for management of important biodiversity sites by community members.
In 2012, Idechong retired from the Palau National Congress. Since then, he has been working with The Nature Conservancy to address the issues of fisheries resource decline, food security and livelihoods of Palauans in the future.
Idechong explains, “Our project is aimed at designing and introducing reforms that can lead to sustainable fish harvests that can provide for the needs of the local population, while also ensuring that the quality and experience of the visitors remains high. The project works directly with fisherman to empower them to be directly involved in fishery management, while also ensuring sustainable fishery harvests and with direct benefits accruing to them. This project is expected to show results in 3 to 5 years’ time and lessons can be shared with other island nations that experience similar situations.”