Palau – where size doesn’t matter

Not counting the 400 or so volcano-uplifted little limestone islands that make up the spectacular Rock Islands, Palau is small. With a population of 21,000 living in the islands’ 16 states, the island republic does live up to the Greek meaning of the name of the cultural grouping it belongs to, that of Micronesia. However being tiny does not matter when it comes to marine conservation or in the protection of the environment. In fact in the sphere of sustainable development, the republic of Palau is a giant.

Consider this: In 2003, long before marine conservation became fashionable, Palau put into place a very innovative plan to protect the islands’ fragile biodiversity. Each private owner of land, a community or state can apply to be part of the Protection Area Network, agreeing to work towards conserving their natural resources in their demarcated protected areas.

In 2005, two years later, Palau took the lead in establishing the Micronesian Challenge. This initiative announced on November 5, 2005 by Palau President Tommy E Remengesau Jnr aims to conserve at least 30 per cent of near-shore marine resources and 20 per cent of the terrestrial resources. It was a hard act to follow and in no time, neighbour Micronesian countries of the Federated States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and the American territories of Guam and the Northern Marianas have joined the Micronesia Challenge. Put together, this means a combined region of nearly 5 per cent of the marine area of the Pacific Ocean and 7 per cent of its total coastline. Not so long after, indeed three months later, Palau raised the conservation bar, yet again. This time President Remengesau in March 2006 signed into law a ban against bottom trawling in Palau waters.

Indeed, this ban also covers citizens of Palau who may be involved in this type of destructive fishing anywhere in the world. Offenders face both civil and criminal penalties. “We are legislating out of a responsible concern for our seas and seabed and their vulnerable coral habitats and deep water fishstocks.” Palau’s President said then. “If these measures are good enough for our own waters, what is the excuse for so disrespecting the waters beyond? It is time now to bridge the gap for the deep seas.”

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