By Dylan Giordano
Originally published at ScientificAmerican.com
The Republic of Palau is host to one of the highest levels of marine and terrestrial biodiversity in all of Micronesia. As increased tourism, economic development, population growth, and climate-related factors have threatened the nation’s biodiversity, the Palauan government has taken a variety of measures to protect its natural resources. For example, Palau has committed to protect and conserve more than 30% of its near-shore marine resources over the next 10 years (Micronesia, 2012).
Recently, the Palauan government established the Protected Areas Network (PAN) Act with the participation of local stakeholders and external groups such as the Nature Conservancy. Passed in November 2003, the PAN Act provided a framework to create and implement a network of marine and terrestrial protected areas. These sites not only conserve critical species habitat, but other valuable resources, which are essential for sustaining the cultural, economic, and environmental health of Palau (Hinchley, 2007).
Unlike many other Pacific Island nations, Palau’s natural environment has remained relatively intact, leaving a wide range of options for the design of protected areas. For example, under the PAN Act, target ecosystems such as coral reefs, marine lakes, coastal mangroves, forest areas, and animal nesting sites were selected with specific long-term conservation goals outlined.
For each target ecosystem, scientists and stakeholders review the proposed conservation measures to determine the feasibility and potential outcome of implementing protection. It is interesting to note that larger, aggregate areas tend to meet more conservation goals than more scattered sites. Thus, it is important to consider a size criterion for each target ecosystem evaluated.
As a participant in the USC 2012 Maymester in Guam and Palau, my classmates and I have been conducting coral reef surveys on Ngederrak Reef, one of a handful of marine protected areas in the Rock Islands-Southern Lagoon. Managed by the Koror State Government, the Rock Islands are zoned for conservation and recreational, subsistence, and restricted commercial use (Palau Conservation Society, 2005).
A series of Koror State regulations have delineated general resource use by implementing fishing licenses, visitor permits, and permitted and restricted activities in the area. Both Koror State and the National Government have established several protected areas of integral importance for biodiversity and cultural heritage and devised zoning laws varying from no-fishing or any form of marine life disturbance to no-take and no entry zones.
The Rock Islands Protected Areas’ continued success is contingent on careful and consistent management and enforcement of laws and regulations that serve to protect their ecological integrity. Both the State of Koror and the National government will need to continue to evaluate socio-economic, cultural and resource management needs along with the overall capacity to protect these areas for the long-term. Despite these challenges, the Republic of Palau’s PAN is an ambitious project that could serve as a great example of environmental stewardship to many countries across the world.
About the Author:
Dylan Giordano is a junior at USC completing a B.A. in Environmental Studies and beginning his bachelor’s degree in Policy, Planning and Development with an emphasis in sustainability planning. He wants to pursue a career with environmental consulting or sustainable development and hopefully continue more field experiences like that of the Problems Without Passports to Guam and Palau.
Ellechel, Conrad. “OFFICE OF THE PALAU AUTOMATED LAND AND RESOURCE INFORMATION SYSTEM.” Biodiversity and the Environment in Palau. 3 Feb. 2010. Web.
Hinchley, David, and Geoff Lipsett-Moore. Biodiversity Planning for Palau’s Protected Areas Network: An Ecoregional Assessment. Rep. Nature Conservancy, May 2007. Print. Pacific Island Countries Report No. 1/07.
“Micronesia. The Places We Protect: The Republic of Palau.” The Nature Conservancy. Web. May 2012.
“Rock Islands – South Lagoon Preservation Areas.” Palau Conservation Society. Mar. 2005. Web.
Editor’s note: Scientific Research Diving at USC Dornsife is offered as part of an experiential summer program offered to undergraduate students of the USC Dana and David Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. This course takes place on location at the USC Wrigley Marine Science Center on Catalina Island and throughout Micronesia. Students investigate important environmental issues such as ecologically sustainable development, fisheries management, protected-area planning and assessment, and human health issues. During the course of the program, the student team will dive and collect data to support conservation and management strategies to protect the fragile coral reefs of Guam and Palau in Micronesia.
Instructors for the course include Jim Haw, Director of the Environmental Studies Program in USC Dornsife, Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies David Ginsburg, SCUBA instructor and volunteer in the USC Scientific Diving Program Tom Carr and USC Dive Safety Officer Gerry Smith of the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.