Comparing Marine Protected Areas — Guam and Palau

by Ticia Lee

After completing exploratory and scientific surveying dives on both islands, I am now able to deduce a conclusion regarding the differences between the two environments. In Guam, we visited marine protected areas Anae Island and Double Reef and while in Palau, we dove in the marine protected area of Ngederrak Conservation Park. Although Guam certainly has an abundance of coral and high fish counts, it lacks in species of coral as well as species of fish diversity. On the other hand, Ngederrak Conservation Park possesses both high counts of coral and fish as well as high levels of coral and fish species diversity.

The USC Dornsife ENST dive team conducted several transect surveys in the marine protected areas of Guam and Palau. Photo by Jim Haw.

The contrasts between the two islands’ marine protected areas are not hard to prove. In fact, one can easily spot the differences upon entering the waters. The evidence so clearly reveals itself as soon as a diver descends and sees what covers the ocean floors. While exploring underwater, we encounter a variety of things that indicate whether or not that particular marine environment should be considered healthy. The process we use for determining whether it is healthy or not depends on our observations along a transect line. We specifically look for things that would indicate typical living conditions in that area. For example, every 10 or 20 meters we would record the type of substrate and invertebrates present along the transect line. Although all of the dive sites each had their wondrous charms, the realities of their health conditions are not as pristine.

At the Double Reef and Anae Island sites in Guam, the majority of the existing coral was a type of coral called Porities, which is a hard coral. There were many schools of fish in plain sight but there wasn’t much diversity within those clusters as the common fish species in those groups consisted of Butterfly fish, Damselfish, Convict Tangs and a few Parrot and Trumpet fish here and there. Also, the count of the specific indicator invertebrate species — sea urchins, giant clams, spider conchs and sea cucumbers were limited in the Guam marine protected areas.

Sophomore Sydney Morical swims among schools of Butterfly fish and Convict Tangs while diving in Anae Island. The background displays Porities coral, the most common type of coral we found in Guam waters. Photo by Ticia Lee.

On the other hand, the scene in the Ngederrak dive site in Palau is a little more diversified as there are several other coral types besides Porities present, including Fire coral, Brain coral, Staghorn coral and even types of soft coral. In addition to a more diverse coral environment, the fish species present were more assorted as well. For example, we saw some sucker fish, sea anemone fish and unicorn fish. The count of the indicator species in this environment was about the same as the Guam sites however, the numbers were more evenly distributed among the four species unlike the Guam sites where the great majority of indicator species found were sea cucumbers.

Palau’s Ngederrak Reef Conservation Area holds various types of coral and fish species such as the ones pictured here. Photo by Thomas Carr.

After reviewing such collected data, the results are clear. The marine protected area in Palau is overall more diverse than the marine protected areas in Guam. The evidence for this conclusion was made obvious by evaluating the ranging varieties of substrate, coral types, fish types and indicator species counts in both of the islands’ marine protected areas. The reasoning for such a distinct difference between Guam and Palau’s marine protected areas definitely has something to do with the surrounding society’s influence. The history behind each island’s existence is important while analyzing the causes for the marine protected areas’ current conditions. For example, Guam is notoriously known for possessing a large amount of U.S. military territory and therefore is heavily impacted by military activities such as dredging coral spaces and increases in human population. Palau, however, is not affected by such military impacts and thus most of the marine environments there reap the benefits of being able to remain untouched. Although the marine protected areas in both Guam and Palau include some of the most magnificent sightings, each of those sites undergo some form of impact that causes them to become less diverse due to the existing societal and cultural influences.

Ticia Lee is a freshman environmental studies student in USC Dornsife. She is a San Francisco, Calif. native and enjoys discovering the outdoors in her free time. Follow her on her first excursions as a certified scientific SCUBA diver.

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