Meet the Island Country That Turned Itself into a Giant Marine Sanctuary
Exciting news! The nation of Palau, made up of 250 tropical islands located in the western Pacific Ocean north of Australia, has decided to ban all commercial fishing, declaring the entire region a “100 percent marine sanctuary.”
The country, geographically part of the larger island group of Micronesia and with a population of around 21,000, shares maritime boundaries with Indonesia, the Philippines and Micronesia.
Palau earlier created the world’s first shark sanctuary, but now that same protection will be extended to all species.
The same cannot be said for Antarctica, where plans to create two huge marine sanctuaries have failed for a third time, after Russia again headed nations which blocked the bids. The meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources in Australia had sought to protect the Ross Sea and an area off East Antarctica from exploitation. But delegates from 24 countries, plus the European Union, failed to reach a consensus.
By contrast, at the beginning of February, in a keynote address to a United Nations meeting on”Healthy Oceans and Seas,” Palauan President Tommy Remengesau Jr. announced plans to outlaw commercial fishing across the nation’s 230 thousand square miles of ocean. The ban will take effect once current fishing contracts with Japan, Taiwan and some private companies expire, when only fishing by island residents and tourists will be allowed.
To enforce the new ban, Remengesau said Palau is working with potential partners to obtain radar equipment and drones to monitor its waters.
The ban is part of a plan to promote tourism by focusing on preservation and not exploitation.
The massive sanctuary, which will cover roughly the same area as France, will help aquatic life to recover from overfishing elsewhere, says Remengasau, benefiting the ocean at large and at the same time reaffirming Palau’s reputation as a haven for eco-tourists.
From The Herald Sun:
“We will do our part of making sure that there’s a healthy stock of fish in Palau that then can migrate to other places,” he said.
Remengesau, a fisherman, said he has seen fish stocks dwindle and the size of fish grow smaller around his island nation.
With a marine sanctuary, he said, “we will do our part of making sure that there’s a healthy stock of fish in Palau that then can migrate to other places.”
Remengesau said snorkellers and scuba divers come to Palau to see sharks, which can live up to 100 years.
The Palauan President quoted a study that said a live shark is worth $1.9 million (USD) as a tourist attraction compared to a dead shark which is worth several hundred dollars for its fins for the Asian delicacy shark fin soup.
He added that establishing “a 100 per cent marine sanctuary” will enable Palau to preserve “a pristine environment” and promote snorkelling, scuba diving and ecotourism as an alternative way to grow its economy.
Palau has also adopted the most restrictive law against bottom trawling. In 2012, its Rock Islands Southern Lagoon was named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The country is also urging the UN to adopt a new goal to clean up the world’s oceans, restore fish stocks and bring some equity to resources being taken by others.
It was in 2009 that President George W. Bush designated national marine monuments that was at that time the largest marine conservation effort in history.
The three areas, totaling some 195,274 square miles, included the Mariana Trench and the waters and corals surrounding three uninhabited islands in the Northern Mariana Islands, Rose Atoll in American Samoa, and seven islands strung along the equator in the central Pacific Ocean.
Palau will now create a marine sanctuary covering an even bigger area, over 30,000 more square miles.
Now if only I could save enough money to visit this amazingly beautiful area!
Hooray for Palau!
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