February 11, 2012: Aloha Palau
As my week in Palau comes to an end, I am filled with gratitude and hope for the future of coral reefs here. Our closing dinner was held at the Palau International Coral Reef Center — complete with taro served five ways, fresh sashimi, and enough tapioca to fill me twice over. An amazing finish to an amazing trip.
During the closing ceremonies, each person that had participated had an opportunity to share their thoughts. As with other end-of-day reflections throughout the week, I was struck by how powerfully the experience had affected each participant. Some were too choked up to say more than “Mahalo” (Hawaiian for “Thank you”), but most shared more on their heartfelt gratitude, what they learned, and most importantly, the responsibility they felt to share this experience with their family, friends and communities upon returning home.
What struck me the most is that these six days had turned a group that at the beginning had hardly known each other at all into family. Kimi Werner, a champion free diver and spearfisher, said it best when she referred to the group as her “newfound clan” — one that she promised to hold up and keep strong as each member returned home to continue their important work.
Hawaii participants sharing reflections on the day after visiting a local fisheries hatchery.
Our journey was also one of self-discovery: One participant said he now realized that he had had to come all the way from Hawaii to Palau to get to know himself. As he put it: We already knew what to do — it is part of our ancestry — and coming to Palau was simply a profound reminder of where we came from and the incredible responsibility we have to pass on the legacy of a healthy and abundant sea.
For my part, I thanked the group for their endurance (it was an intense week) and for the inspiration each of them had given me to keep going forward in the quest to save the most threatened habitat on Earth. The evening ceremonies closed with the visitors getting up in front of our Palauan hosts, led by the musical talents of Uncle Sol (Sol Kahoohalahala) from Maui on ukulele. With song lyrics in hand, we sang Aloha O’e (Farewell To Thee) — and I admit there were tears in my eyes. There is just something about the sea and the way it brings us all together. For that I am grateful and send my many thanks to all that joined me in this adventure and to those that made it possible. Mahalo nui loa.