Patterson Lawrence – A True Water Guardian of Pohnpei

Mr. Patterson, who is from Sokehs, grew up with a love of the ocean and spent much of his young years fishing and traveling between the not-too-distant islands of Ant and Pakin Atoll.  His love of the ocean and the people of Pohnpei led him to join the Pohnpei State Police force, where he was selected to be one of the officers to lead the new Division of Fish and Wildlife.  In the early 2000s, Pohnpei was looking to Palau to learn from its Fish and Wildlife Division and the Koror State Rangers.  Mr. Lawrence was sent with a team to Palau for a short period of time to shadow Palau Officers and gain experience to help start and lead the new Division of Fish and Wildlife in Pohnpei.

After a few years of challenges, mainly due to lack of support from the Government, Lawrence joined Rohsa (traditional leader) William Hawley as Chief Ranger for Ant Atoll.  With support from OneReef, and inspired by the lessons learned from OneReef’s engagement with the Helen Reef Atoll in Palau,  Rohsa Hawley immediately established a permanent presence on Ant Atoll, putting Mr. Lawrence in charge of a team of 4 to 8 rangers to fend off illegal fishing activities.  Rohsa William Hawley also built a permanent ranger station to house the ranger team.  The selection of Mr. Patterson Lawrence by Rohsa was for two reasons: First, he brought credibility to the rangers program with his enforcement background, and his experience and connections within the Police department allowed him to respond to, document effectively, and deter illegal activities on Ant. Secondly, because of Mr. Lawrence’s reputation and abilities – his love of the ocean, his courage in navigating out in the water, often by himself, and his success in rescuing people from difficult situations on the water.

Many people in Pohnpei owe their lives to Mr. Patterson Lawrence who has helped innumerable people lost at sea, having boat problems, or otherwise needing assistance or rescuing in challenging weather conditions. Mr. Lawrence is very courageous in search and rescue operations, and he does it voluntarily. As is the norm in Pohnpei, Lawrence also volunteers many hours a year patrolling his community’s Marine Protected Area and guiding and training other Community Conservation Officers. On average, he volunteers about 8 hours a day, 365 days a year!

In his almost 8 years as Chief Ranger at Ant Atoll,  Mr. Lawrence helped establish logbooks and reporting and trained a youth ranger, Mr. Rickson, to take over from him.  Lawrence trained Rickson and the team in all key activities of effective surveillance – vessel approach, boarding, logbook entries, report writing, work planning, and budgeting.  While he was Chief Ranger at Ant, Lawrence also assisted his community on nearby Pakin Atoll, where his wife is from, to establish their ranger program.  After handing over the Ant Atoll Ranger team to Rickson, Lawrence became Advisor and lead (Chief Conservation Officer) for the Pakin Rangers Team. In 2018 Pakin signed a Community Partnership Agreement with OneReef.

Mr. Patterson Lawrence is a humble and down-to-earth person and is very active in his Parish of St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Sokehs.  He always makes time to serve God and the people in his parish.  He believes that the communities around Pohnpei need a better understanding of the marine management rules that are put in place to help them increase food security.  That is why he always treats violators of the fisheries laws and rules with respect and always views them as people who need food and who are trying to survive.  This approach has earned him respect in Kitti and other communities where much of the poaching originates.  He believes that if they are taught to understand the rules, it will increase compliance, and the future of Pohnpei will be much better than today.