Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Taking New Zealand's environmental lessons to the Pacific

ON a tiny Pacific country halfway between Papua New Guinea and Japan, the words of a Kiwi hero inspired a 17-year-old girl.

Mary Grace Tiglao, from the Mariana Islands, started researching Sir Peter Blake when she earned a place on an environmental forum in New Zealand that continues his legacy.

“I really liked his quotes about leadership, about how the hardest part is to begin, once you’ve begun you are on your way."

“That’s a great quote to live by and I think I’d like to instill it in my own philosophy.”

The Sir Peter Blake Trust’s Youth EnviroLeaders Forum or YELF is in its 13th year, and this is the first time four international students have been invited.

Mary Grace, as well as three from Palau, Australia and New Caledonia joined the 50 Kiwi students for the week-long forum in Nelson where the focus was on pest eradication, ocean health and biodiversity.

It’s Mary Grace’s first time in New Zealand, and just three days into her visit she’s standing on the pristine pest-free Adele Island in the Abel Tasman.

“The weather is beautiful; it’s totally awesome here. The hospitality of the kiwis is top notch.”

She says at home on the Northern Marianas’ largest island Saipan, they do a lot of beach cleanups and she believes preserving the environment is vital to a country where tourism is the main industry.

“If we destroy it our economy’s going to go down, we’ll have less visitors and it destroys the wildlife."

“I also believe we should preserve our environment for posterity, not only for tourism.”

What Mary Grace had seen at the Brook Waimarama sanctuary in Nelson and privately funded Abel Tasman National Park restoration initiative, Project Janszoon, had shown her New Zealand’s proactiveness in conservation, she said.

“I would like the CNMI (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands) to expand their efforts more — enforce and implement stricter rules around littering and the preservation of wildlife.”

Sir Peter Blake Trust chief executive Shelley Campbell says the idea to bring young Pacific leaders into the fold came about at the Our Ocean Conference in Chile last year.

The Trust worked with Pew Charitable Trusts, a U.S.-based NGO, to bring the students to YELF with the aim of connecting young environmental leaders across the Pacific.

“We share the same backyard and the same environmental challenges,” Campbell says.

“We hope they’ll develop amazing friendships, they’ll share great ideas, when they get home they’ll remain in touch with each other.”

She says today’s reality is that environmental issues aren’t isolated to one community or country.

New Zealand is well-placed to help the lesser-developed countries in the Pacific grapple with global environmental issues, she says.

“If we can offer them some opportunities in New Zealand that perhaps they don’t have at home, they can take those ideas back and use that to stimulate discussion, what a great role for New Zealand to play in the Pacific.

“I think Peter would be proud of that.”

Students applying for YELF require a proven record of involvement in environmental issues and who are ready to step up to a challenge.

The Forum included guest speakers Ministry for the Environment chief executive Vicki Robertson, Environment Minister Nick Smith and Blake Leader Sam Johnson.

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