Comparing Reefs in Palau and Guam

by Genivieve McCormick

During these first few days on Palau, I’ve often found myself wondering, “What will this place look like hundreds of years from now?” Untamed jungle covers much of the land area, and many of the reefs are as close to pristine as you will find these days. I’ve learned that Palau is proud of its many regulatory efforts to allow its people to live in harmony with the environment in a way that is sustainable and preserves the natural beauty of its many islands. Solar power is even installed on many of the buildings.

Reef comparison: Koror MPA, Palau. Photo by Genivieve McCormick.

Reef comparison: Double Reef, Guam. Photo by Genivieve McCormick.

Guam on the other hand, with its larger population and sizeable, soon-to-be larger military presence, is beginning to struggle with finding a balance between urban development and adequate environmental conservation. I was able to observe the anthropogenic effects that are evident on the marine environment in Apra Harbor, where remnants of sunken vessels are becoming the new homes for a less diverse array of organisms. With the dredging planned for the harbor to make room for an aircraft carrier, parts of the reef will be a total loss, while sedimentation will roll downhill and harm an even larger number of corals. This will lead to an even larger loss of biological diversity in the area.

Vehicle tread seen in Apra Harbor, Guam. Photo by Tom Carr.

As Guam becomes more populated, the reefs face more pressure from overfishing and damage from pollution. Palau doesn’t want to become like Guam, which is losing its diversity in wildlife both in and out of the sea. There are very few birds on Guam due to the great success of the invasive Brown Tree Viper, and only seven fruit bats remain on the island, whereas in Palau, the fruit bats are not threatened and are even a delicacy in local restaurants.

When it comes to conservation and protection of both marine and terrestrial life, Guam and Palau are two of the few biological gems that exist in the world. After experiencing these environments first-hand, and learning about the demand for qualified experts to help ensure that they stay that way, it makes me look forward to attending the University of Guam for graduate school and using the education I gain to help protect the marine and terrestrial life here through direct research and environmental policies.

Genivieve McCormick is a senior working toward a B.S. in environmental studies.

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