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There’s no one way to describe Noah Idechong.

Born in the small Pacific island country of Palau, Idechong has donned different hats over the past 40 years. He’s been a government official, an activist, a politician, a legislator, and the founder of a domestic conservation NGO. Currently, he’s the executive director for Micronesia and Polynesia at the international conservation NGO The Nature Conservancy. In all of these roles, Idechong has focused on one main thing: championing the traditional systems the communities of Palau employ to protect and conserve the archipelago’s rich marine biodiversity and domestic fisheries.

Idechong’s list of achievements is long. Early in his career, for example, he helped reinstate a traditional system of fishing closures, locally known as bul, to reinvigorate declining fish stocks. For this he was awarded a 1995 Goldman Environmental Prize. He then worked with the fishermen to frame a law that put restrictions on certain destructive fishing practices. As a member of congress, he conceived the Palau Protected Areas Network Act, which offered a framework for communities to designate and manage protected areas along with government. He helped design a sustainable funding mechanism to ensure that tourists who visit Palau pay a “green” fee that communities can use to manage protected areas. And in his current role, he’s helping build more sustainable regional tuna fisheries that benefit the Pacific island nations in whose waters the tuna swim, rather than foreign fishing enterprises.

At a panel on Indigenous-led conservation at the Our Oceans 2022 Conference held in Palau on April 13, Idechong was introduced as a “bit of a legend.” Yet he doesn’t see himself as a specialist of any kind. “I’m a trained hunter and fisherman. That’s all I know,” he said at the panel.

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