Palau: Where tradition inspired one of the world’s largest marine reserves – Sustainability Story of the Week
This week our sustainability story focuses on the Palau marine reserve, one of the worlds largest.
Small in size but big on conservation, the western Pacific archipelago of Palau showed the rest of the world the importance of caring for our oceans. In 2015, the tiny island nation created the Palau marine reserve, twice the size of the UK, where fishing and mining are strictly forbidden.
The island communities have developed a very strong relationship with the ocean. They source food but also their identity and traditions from it. Protecting their marine ecosystems is therefore at the top of their priority list.
Sadly, they have also been amongst the hardest hit by the threats posed by climate change and environmental damage to the oceans. The El Nino event, for example, has had a catastrophic impact on one of the island’s main natural wonder: the Jellyfish Lake.
However, the islanders weren’t going to give up. Conservation is an ancestral tradition in Palau. The bul, a one thousand-year old tradition, where Palau’s Council of Chiefs imposes limits to fishing in certain reefs to allow fish populations to breed, still resonates with today’s conservation needs. It is that tradition that inspired the people of Palau to create one of the world’s largest marine reserves.
The Palau marine reserve protected areas represent 80% of the nation’s territorial waters. The conservation efforts of the local government and island communities have been a resounding success. Palau’s waters are amongst the world’s most pristine marine environments and home to more than 1,300 species of fish and 700 species of coral.
The protected areas are also a lifeline for the island communities who very much depend on the ocean for their livelihoods. Studies have shown that protected areas had double the amount of fish and 5 times the number of predatory fish than unprotected areas. Fish populations in protected areas are so healthy that they spill over into unprotected areas, thereby providing local communities with a bountiful of catches to support local fishing industries.
Nature tourism is also a key source of revenues for the country whose pristine waters and conservation efforts are attracting more and more nature-enthusiasts. Members of the National Geographic’s team that explored Palau have described it as a “crazy dream”, “a paradise from your dreams” and “one of the most beautiful places […] anywhere in the world ”.
The immense diversity of Palau’s marine environment is a testament to its people’s symbiotic relationship with the ocean and its true commitment to protecting it.