Oath for the environment in Palau

This article has photo gallery Published on SGT Dave Morley (author), Unknown (photographer)

Location(s): Palau

Laura Clarke, co-founder of the Palau Legacy Project and spouse of Lieutenant Commander Ben Fennell (photo: C.B.Fennell)
Laura Clarke, co-founder of the Palau Legacy Project and spouse of Lieutenant Commander Ben Fennell

The spouse of a Navy Maritime Surveillance Adviser posted to the island nation of Palau has put her own skills to good use during the posting and co-founded a project intended to protect the country’s fragile environment.
Laura Clarke, co-founder of the Palau Legacy Project and spouse of Lieutenant Commander Ben Fennell, said their arrival in Palau two-and-a-half years ago coincided with a large influx of visitors from developing markets who had little awareness of the need to protect the fragile environment.
“Their careless and neglectful behaviour was having a negative impact on the precious Palauan environment,” Ms Clarke said.
“Palau has a fragile ecosystem and one of the most pristine underwater environments in the world. Palau’s Rock Islands Southern Lagoon has been classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, not long after we arrived, the Palau National Marine Sanctuary was established, banning
all fishing activity in 80 per cent of the country’s waters, making it the largest percentage of protected maritime territory in the world,” she said.
“Despite its strict environmental laws, I noticed that visitors in the near-shore areas were treading on the reef and destroying coral and sea life, poaching protected species, littering and throwing cigarette butts, and generally wreaking havoc on the natural environment.”
Ms Clarke said she and the First Lady of Palau, Debbie Remengesau, shared their mutual concerns when they met at a US Embassy function.
“Tourism is Palau’s biggest economic driver, but growth needs to be balanced with conscientious, responsible and sustainable tourism,” she said.
“My background is in global marketing and public relations and I knew I could play an important role in educating visitors to the country.
“Done properly, effective communications can create a powerful emotional connection with visitors to help them understand the need to be responsible tourists to protect Palau for the next generation and beyond.”
Through contacts on the island, Ms Clarke assembled a group of local and international experts to co-found the project.
They included Nicolle Fagan, who has a background in global advertising; Jennifer Gibbons, who ran the successful Palau National Marine Sanctuary campaign; and Executive Director of Palau Visitors’ Authority Nanae Singeo.
Ms Clarke said together they created the Palau Legacy Project – a comprehensive and integrated marketing campaign, which is in production and will be launched later this year.
“Nicolle and I reached out to our friends at the Sydney office of Havas Worldwide, who also happen to be Defence Force Recruiting’s advertising agency, and they pledged their pro bono support to the project,” she said.
“They created the idea of the Palau Pledge – an oath undertaken by every visitor that sets foot in Palau that they will act in a responsible way to protect Palau for the country’s children.”
This is the first time a country has implemented such an oath as part of its immigration procedure.
“Havas Sydney donated time and expertise as the strategic and creative partner to the project. They have produced an incredibly innovative campaign that will make a real difference to Palau’s future and set an example for the world to follow.”
While Lieutenant Commander Fennell’s posting to the region ended in July, Ms Clarke said she will return to Palau to assist with the launch of the project, tentatively scheduled for the end of October.
Lieutenant Commander Fennell was posted to Palau in support of the Defence Cooperation Pacific Patrol Boat Program, under which Australia gifted 22 patrol boats to 12 Pacific Island countries.
The patrol boats, which enable the participating countries to take an active role in securing their own borders and precious natural resources, are supported by 26 Royal Australian Navy maritime and technical advisers posted across the region.