Environmental law conference unites scientists and judicial officers

Scientists and judicial officers discussed issues during the panel forum at the first Environmental Law and Science Conference. Photo by Audrey Meno

The island’s first Environmental Law and Science Conference was held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel from Nov.13 to 17.  The event was hosted by the Pacific Judicial Council. University of Hawaii and the University of Guam partnered to address environmental issues in the Pacific region and educate judicial officers on the science behind them.

“It’s important that we provide our judicial officers the tools to understand the science related to this body of law,” said associate justice F. Philip Carbullido, chairman of the Pacific Judicial Education Committee.

Scientists and members of the law community traveled across Micronesia to attend the weeklong conference.

Participants engaged in panel discussions and received presentations on topics such as using science in the courtroom, climate change effects in the Pacific, challenges with island-sustainability, the health of our coral reefs, new environmental technology such as eDNA, policy and legal response, environmental litigation, enforcement, and marine protected areas.

The conference unified scientists and judicial members and gave them the opportunity to share the issues, concerns, and solutions that they face within their own island districts.

“What was very eye opening for me in part from this conference was the challenges of my colleagues,” Carbullido said. “We need to develop more resources and learn to appreciate how these various parts of our environment interrelate so that we can be better informed.”

The Pacific Judicial Council consists of members from Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa, Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia. Together they collaborate to improve the administration of the courts and justice in the Pacific region.  Delegates from these islands attended the conference to provide education to their judicial officers.

“The question we have in the judiciary is how can we use the tools of the legal profession to integrate with the science so we can make better decisions,” Carbullido said.

The primary goal of this conference is to educate the judges on the science related to environmental issues and integrate this knowledge to place better laws.

According to Carbullido, more and more environmental issues are coming to the forefront due to the effects of climate change, air pollution, water pollution and land regulation.

“We want to preserve the pristine beauty of our environment so that our children and our grandchildren can continue to experience the beauty of Guam and Micronesian islands” said Carbullido.

President of the Pacific Judicial Council, District Court of Guam Chief Judge Frances Tydignco-Gatewood shared her interest to learn more about environmental issues.

“Educating ignorant judges like myself is very important. Especially in the context of understanding future cases” said Tydingco-Gatewood.

The event’s keynote speaker was Noah Idechong, senior fisheries advisor of Palau.  Idechong shared his experiences in marine conservation. When Palau had encountered a fisheries problem in the 1980’s, Idechong outreached to 95% of the population of Palau starting from the chiefs and fishermen through the PRIDE Campaign.

“It’s about ownership,” Idechong said. “Taking ownership of your land and your shores because no one else will do it for you.”.

To end the conference, attendees toured the Fouha bay on the Humåtak Watershed Adventure. There they had the opportunity to make seed sling stones and released them during the hike down. During the trek, they saw badlands firsthand and learned about negative effects of sedimentation on coral reefs in the bay.

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