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Views From Palau: One for the birds!

Imagine if you can, running at 40 miles per hour for seven days non-stop, unable to rest, unable to eat, drinking rainwater as it falls and at best, sleeping for only a few seconds at a time.

What could possibly compel you to do such a thing? Imagine also that this ordeal was only part

of what you had to do, that after a few days of rest you would do it again and again… until

you had run the equivalent of 7,000 miles.

You’d certainly expect to be tested for performance enhancing drugs and then, when

cleared, lauded for your athletic prowess and entered into the Guinness Book of Records. If things went well, you might pick up a few sponsorship deals for running shoes, sports drinks or even Capt’n Crunch cereal.

But no. This isn’t what you have in mind. You’re only one of several thousand doing the same thing. And you’re not doing it for fame or glory or even free breakfast cereal.

You’re doing it because somewhere deep in your subconscious there is something that

drives you and your kin to push yourselves to your species’ limits of endurance for the sake of

the continuation of your line.

You’re not human of course, you’re a bird. A bird that weighs around one pound on average and would fit in a shoe box with room to spare. But you and others like you fly huge distances across

oceans to take advantage of seasonal bounties in different parts of the world and so

you can raise your young in the boom times and escape the harsh environment in others.

And you’ll do it every year for the rest of your life.

Now imagine that the only places you can rest and feed as you migrate across these vast

oceans are tiny islands, places so small that they will disappear under a bread crumb on a map, places however that have the right environment for you. They provide shelter, huge amounts of the right food so that you and your fellow travelers can feed and peace and quiet so you can rest, because over each leg of your journey you can lose as much as 50 percent of your body weight.

These island stepping stones are just that, vital links in the chain of your route. If

one disappears, the space between what is left is too great for you to make the jump and you

cannot make the journey. You’ll likely starve or die, as will a significant proportion of your

species. You’re effectively doomed to extinction.

Your efforts, considerable and super-human as they might be, are for nought. Your ancestors who

have plied the same route for thousands of generations, their efforts to raise you and that genetic

memory are gone.

So when we as humans, in our search for knowledge and understanding of this planet, discover

one of these areas that supports thousands of animals from not one or two, but 54 species of

migratory shorebird, and almost at the same time find out that this area is planned to be dug up,

levelled and turned into a resort for tourists, the gravity of the situation is laid out in stark

contrast. Do we sit by and watch, count our money and ignore our conscience?

Our migratory birds must serve as ambassadors to convey the message that this is wrong.

Those with the passion to study and discover not only the spectacles of nature, but who also possess the bravery to stand and oppose its destruction by mankind, should be lauded as much as that which they are attempting to protect.

Palau has one of these great migratory stepping stones in the form of the Lkes Sand Flats of

Peleliu. This intertidal area provides refuge for huge numbers of birds on their way to and from

their breeding grounds in far flung parts of Asia, Siberia and even Alaska. Efforts made by bird enthusiasts and non-governmental agencies such as the Palau Conservation Society are helping to raise awareness of the proposed development of this vital area and the devastating

effect that it will have.

That development would already be occurring had people not stood up and made authorities aware of the terrible consequences, not only to the birds but also to locals and their ability to fish and gather food in this unique environment.

The message that we give through our migratory bird ambassadors is that Palau still cares enough to protect its environment for the future.

Richard Brooks owns Lightning Strike Production, which covers everything from underwater to aerials. See his work at


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