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A Tradition of Conservation – The Future Awaits

In Palau, the Ocean provides life for all of us, and will remain our future.  It has been so since the beginning of time.  Our ancestors navigated through its treacherous divide and survived to settle the largest expanse on the planet.  Our people have lived according to the terms of the Ocean, as it was the very thing that sustained our existence. For generation upon generation, Palau’s Council of Chiefs preserved Marine resources by placing vulnerable reef areas off limits to fishing.  This traditional conservation method, known as a “bul,” preserved the livelihoods and food security of the Palauan people in a simpler time.  However the modern leadership of Palau has come to understand that the ‘bul’ is no longer a sufficient response to the growing pressures on the environment caused by modernization, over-population and industrialization.

DSC_2313In the tradition of the ‘bul’, and immediately upon achieving independence in 1994, (through the Compact of Free Association with the United States), visionary Palauan leaders moved to expand environmental protections by passing the Marine Protection Act.  This bill began the process of identifying and protecting marine species, such as the hawkbill turtle.  Palau’s leaders also initiated the formation of the Palau Conservation Society to ensure an organizational forum for a sustainable future. With this as a pedestal for future action, Palau continued to move forward with a broad variety of initiative and laws to protect the uniquely diverse environment in Palau.

In 1997, the Palau International Coral Reef Center was created, in partnership with the United States and Japan, to initiate studies of and programs for Palau’s unique coral reefs and to strengthen international scientific capacity regarding the world’s reef systems.  In 2001, the harvesting of Dugong was prohibited.

DSC_3006In 2002 the Protected Area Network (PAN) was created to recognize the need to set aside pristine and diverse environments to protect them for future generations. This system was supported in 2004 by the Declaration of the Micronesia Challenge, committing Palau, the Territory of Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia “to effectively conserving at least 30% of the near-shore marine and 20% of our forests.”  In order to ensure effective implementation, Palau also  became the first developing nation to establish a comprehensive self-sufficient financing mechanism, in 2008, through the establishment of the Green Fee and development of the PAN Fund).

This eventually led to the declaration of the Shark Sanctuary in 2012. Expanding this breadth of marine protection to the further reaches of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), Palau then passed the shark finning law in 2008, prohibiting shark finning, moving commercial fishing 50 miles from land and prohibiting the take of certain reef fish, turtles, rays, and marine mammals.

Palau has now taking the final foundational step towards effective and management of its marine environment through the establishment of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary.  To implement this dream, strong support from neighbors and partners will be required.