Palau’s two-pronged program promotes fitness while clearing invasive species
Koror — On one Saturday in February, dozens of Ngardmau State’s residents participated in one of the country’s most innovative civic undertakings. With sharpened knives, machetes and chainsaws the men and women of Ngardmau came out to wage a campaign against the vine known as kebeas, which has overtaken and smothered a large swath of the state forest.
On the side of the Compact Road that runs inside state boundaries, large portions on both sides of the road have come under attack by kebeas (Merremia peltata). It’s a coarse climbing vine with underground tubers. Its stems are smooth and twine at the tips and can grow to over 60 feet in length.
In the early 1990s, Kebeas, which naturally grows in forest clearings was common but generally not a problem in Palau. However, with the construction of Compact Road – the popular but unofficial name for the 53-mile circumferential road that goes around Palau’s largest island of Babeldaob — opened new areas for land clearing and other human activities. For Kebeas that was a green light to expand its range and thrive.
A large trunk of the invasive vine (kebeas) being removed from under the canopy in Ngardmau. (Photo by Palau Ministry of Health)
Initially, this naturally occurring vine was not seen as threatening and there were only limited human activities to control its growth. Now it’s more spread out, threatening forests and communities on the islands of Koror and Babeldaob.
Ngardmau is one of the many communities that have volunteered to work on eradicating the invasive vine from gaining ground into new territories. The activity, which is organized by the Palau Ministry of Health, is conducted on Saturdays where the volunteers are off from work.
Killing the vines requires locating and cutting the trunk, which may require additional attempts in the future to completely to subdue.
“It took four Saturdays to complete the kebeas eradication in Ngardmau compact road,” said Calvin Johanes, coordinator for the kebeas eradication project. He said that further sections of the invasive vines inside the hamlets are for the communities to handle the eradication work themselves. There’s thick kebeas cover over large areas in the west coast of Babeldaob from Ngardmau down to Aimeliik.
“Work is continuing every Saturday,” Johanes said in interview.
While eradicating kebeas is focused on controlling the spread of an invasive species, the Ministry of Health is taking advantage by promoting physical activity through community work.
The kebeas eradication campaign is divided into two parts. Before a project starts in a selected community, a town hall meeting is initiated by a team from the Ministry of Health. In the meeting, Minister of Health Dr. Emais Roberts and public health staff promotes healthy lifestyle choices and provides information for the general public regarding the latest health reports such as the assessment of the current prevalence of non-communicable diseases in Palau.
“The town hall meetings also feature promotion by the Male Health Team for the Male Health Conference being organized for August 14 this year,” Johanes said.
The eradication activity has been opened to all volunteers willing to work together to clear areas of kebeas and collect discarded trash or debris along the Compact Road. It further promotes environmental protection, physical wellness activity, and community work. “It’s consistent with the presidential proclamation declaring this year as ‘Year of Good Health’,” Johanes added.
In support of Palau’s 2018 Year of Good Health, a team from the Ministry of Health has been organizing activities that promote physical activity through community work. Participants of the activities included community members and volunteers from various government agencies.