Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Passing of a Conservation Champion

When Dakio Paul returned to the small pacific island of Pohnpei in 1990 after nearly two decades of working and living in Saipan, he immediately went back to the place that represented the best of his childhood memories--Black Coral Island, known locally as Kehpara.

From February to April of each year, the reefs around Black Coral were famous for the largest recorded fish spawning aggregation in the Western Pacific – between 15,000-20,000 adult individuals aggregated for 2-3 months along a 200 meter stretch of reef just east of Black Coral Island.

In partnership with Pohnpei’s Marine Resources Division, Dakio announced to the adjacent communities that Black Coral was now closed to fishing. At first, the local community, many of Dakio’s own family members, were resistant. Fisherman challenged Dakio’s right to close the area, which by law was “public waters.” Night and day, local fisherman trespassed into the area and still fished.

With only his boat and a 15 horse-power engine, Dakio patrolled the waters and enforced his fishing ban 24 hours a day. After nearly three years of constant vigilance, local fishermen began to notice a difference – fish population and sizes increased not only in the protected area but also in adjacent areas, a spill-over effect. Astonished fishermen, converted by their own observations, spread the news of Dakio’s success to their colleagues around the island.

On a larger scale, Dakio’s pioneering efforts have helped to build national support to move forward on a national system of parks and protected areas for the entire Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). In 2004, the FSM joined 188 other nations in ratifying the Convention on Biological Diversity Program of Work on Protected Areas. Thanks to Dakio’s dedicated work, and that of other environmentalists like him, the community-led marine protected area movement in FSM offers hope for the future.

Sadly on March 18, 2008 Dakio passed away. His memory will continue to live on in efforts of so many people, such as the Marine Conservation Unit of the Conservation Society of Pohnpei.

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