Palau begins implementation of huge marine reserve

Published on
January 7, 2020

The New Year ushered in Palau’s much-touted environmental law, creating a marine sanctuary which will close 80 percent of Palau’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to fishing and all other extractive activities such as mining, shark-finning, and transshipment – creating one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.

The marine sanctuary law, which took effect on 1 January, 2020, covers an area of about 500,000 square kilometers. The remaining 20 percent of the nation’s EEZ will be designated the domestic fishing zone (DFZ), where fishing will be allowed.  

Palau President Tommy Remengesau, in an interview, said he is excited that the “ambitious” initiative finally “comes into fruition."

"Hopefully the marine sanctuary will always stand as a reminder [that] we have to live and respect the environment because the environment is the nest of life, and without the nest nobody in Palau can survive," Remengesau told Radio New Zealand.

The marine reserve restricts longline and purse-seine fishing to a portion of the DFZ referred to as the Fishing Permitted Area, which takes up 17.8 percent of the EEZ. The remaining 2.2 percent of the EEZ, within the DFZ, is Palau’s Contiguous Zone, where pole-and-line fishing and small-scale fishing by recreational vessels are permitted, according to a report released in December by the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) and Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions (COS).

The report provides information on the PNMS and the latest relevant research in the fields of fisheries, socio-economics, and ecology, along with some policy recommendations. The report is the result of discussions by an expert working group of Palauan and international experts to analyze how to best implement the PNMS, while also achieving food security and economic development goals. 

The new legislation that formed the PNMS also requires that all foreign fleets now land all their catch in Palau, unless exempted, and that they all pay an export tax, which was recently increased by 40 percent.

Environment Minister Umiich Sengebau said the law also mandates that Palau has the right to be the first to purchase fish caught in the area in order to satisfy local demand, before exports are allowed.

While enforcement might be a challenge, Sengebau said agreements have been secured with development partners to police the protected waters.

PICRC CEO Yimnang Golbuu said that closure of a huge chunk of Palau’s waters will also serve to protect pelagic species.

“PNMS can provide a strong example for the rest of the world, yielding long-term conservation benefits for the region and charting a course that others can follow,” he said in the report.

The PNMS may also provide a solution to threats from global climate change and declining local and regional fisheries stocks, the report said.

“A lot of work was put into the establishment of the PNMS,” Golbuu said. “We did it because we needed it. With the decline of fish stocks over the years, we did it to help ourselves. We did it to strengthen our food security. We closed 80 percent of our waters so that we can reap the benefits that spill over to 20 percent. We did it to protect our source of healthy protein that is seafood and to ensure that it sustained and available for us now and future generations.”  

Image courtesy of Palau International Coral Reef Center

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