Palau’s president Tommy Remengesau Jr., has declared that his tropical island country will prohibit all commercial fishing, and become solely a marine sanctuary. The area of Palau, consisting of 250 tropical islands stretching across the western Pacific Ocean, made history in 2009, by its declaration of the first shark sanctuary, and its ban on all commercial shark fishing within its territorial boundaries. Palau is presently extending the ban to include all marine life in its waters, making it a “100 per cent marine sanctuary.”
In a keynote address at a United Nations’ meeting on “Healthy Oceans and Seas,” Remengesau said that “once current fishing contracts with Japan, Taiwan and some private companies expire, only fishing by island residents and tourists will be allowed in its 360km exclusive economic zone.” About 20,0000 people live on the islands of Palau, which shares maritime boundaries with Indonesia, the Philippines, and Micronesia. “It will make a difference if it’s just a matter of feeding ourselves and feeding the tourists,” said Remengesau. “As it is right now, we’re feeding the tourist and ourselves plus millions of people outside the territory.”
The ban is part of a plan to promote tourism by focusing on the preservation, and not exploitation of Palau’s “pristine environment.” Remengesau cited a study which affirms that a dead shark is only worth several hundred dollars, compared to a single live shark that can generate $US1.9 million in tourism revenue during their lifespan.
Another reason Palau is closing its waters to the exploitation of aquatic life is to make “sure that there’s a healthy stock of fish in Palau that can migrate to other places,” he said. Because of overfishing, many marine species are becoming extinct, and the natural biodiversity of the oceans, lakes and rivers are under heavy threat. With his massive marine sanctuary, Remengesau hopes to replenish some of the aquatic life, and help preserve the environment at the same time. “These are important ways to make a living and at the same time preserve the pristine environment that we have been blessed with in Palau,” says Remengeau.
Palau is also urging the United Nations to adopt a new Sustainable Development Goal to protect the world’s oceans. Stuart Beck, Ambassador of the Republic of Palau for Oceans and seas, says, that the proposal has three parts:
“One: healthy oceans – let’s clean up the plastic gyre, let stop dumping garbage.”
“Two: restoration of our fish stocks – we can actually achieve that in our lifetime if we’re smart about it.”
“Three: bring some equity to the current resources being taken from these oceans by others.”
Remengesau says that countries are affected by the health of the oceans in many ways, from “rising sea levels, to ocean acidification and unpredictable weather.” Climate change and global warming have been having a serious impact on the islands, says Remengesau. “For us in Palau and the Pacific islands, there’s been a tremendous amount of what we call unpredictable weather patterns that brings typhoons and storms and all kinds of destructive forces to the islands,” he said. “We have other problems [i]f sea level rises.”
Remengesau explains that “[i]t doesn’t matter where you live around the world; we are all connected somehow and are impacted by what we do to the oceans and the health of the oceans and seas.”
Palau is a wonderful example of how a country can generate income from preserving its nonhuman inhabitants, rather than slaughtering them as is seen in many other countries. Residents can earn a viable income from the tourist industry while remaining eco-friendly, and saving not only nonhuman animals, but helping to save the planet as well.
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons: courtesy of Peter R. Binter