Legendary for its astonishing marine diversity and beauty, even named one of the “Seven Underwater Wonders of the World” by divers, Palau holds far more than seems possible in the 170 square miles it covers.
Underwater, Palau supports more than 400 coral species, and nearly 1,300 varieties of reef fish. These waters are home to endangered and vulnerable species like saltwater crocodiles, sea turtles, giant clams and the world’s most isolated population of dugong, a relative of the manatee.
Palau’s inland lakes sustain a unique variety of stingless jellyfish. Its diverse forests house 800 vascular plant species, hundreds of birds — eight that are endemic — and bats, including the native Palauan fruitbat.
For more than 2,000 years the people of Palau have counted on their reefs and forests for survival, but increasing pressures on these resources have put both nature and people at risk.
Threats from overexploited fisheries, non-sustainable forest practices and increasing development, coupled with impacts from events like the 1998 El Niño-related coral bleaching, led Palauans to recognize that action must be taken to protect their environment for themselves and future generations.
Already Palau — with help The Nature Conservancy and partners — has taken major steps towards protecting its natural heritage.
The government of Palau is a key driver behind the Micronesia Challenge, beginning in 2005 with former President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr.’s commitment on behalf of Palau to effectively conserve 30 percent of their near-shore marine resources and 20 percent of their terrestrial resources by 2020.
This commitment set the bar for coral reef and island conversation and prompted four other Micronesian governments to make the same ambitious commitment to strike a critical balance between the need to use their natural resources today and the need to sustain those resources for the future.
One of the biggest steps that Palau’s government has taken towards long-term protection of their natural resources was the creation of a comprehensive Protected Areas Network (PAN). The Conservancy worked closely with government and community stakeholders to ensure that the PAN has a collaborative conservation approach that will benefit local communities and protect the island’s wealth of biodiversity. The PAN will serve as the foundation for Palau’s natural resource conservation efforts.
Already local communities have participated by helping add the first site to Palau’s PAN — Lake Ngardok in the Babeldaob watershed. The Ngardok Nature Reserve protects Micronesia’s largest freshwater lake within the watershed that supplies the nations' capitol and the Melekeok and Ngchesar villages with water. Inclusion in Palau’s PAN ensures that the reserve will have access to technical assistance and sustainable financing.
Plans are in the works for three more new Protected Areas to be included into the Network this year.
The coral reefs of Palau are part of a massive interconnected system that ties together Micronesia and the Western Pacific. To protect these reefs the Conservancy joined with other experts to develop Transforming Coral Reef Conservation, a program designed to build networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) using a science-based approach to find areas that have the biggest benefit to diversity, as well as livelihoods in the region. Palau was chosen as a pilot for this program not only because of the incredible diversity of its corals, but for the enthusiasm for conservation found in local communities all the way to the highest levels of government.
Using this program to form an interconnected system of MPAs will:
This pilot program in Palau will improve global understanding of coral reef ecosystem integrity and connectivity and will enhance their chance of recovery in the face of global threats.
The Conservancy has worked with Palau’s community leaders and government agencies since 1992. In that time we have helped bridge the gap between traditional and modern approaches to conservation. We helped establish the Palau Conservation Society, a local environmental organization dedicated to protecting Palau’s natural heritage. By building on this foundation, we will continue to forge strong partnerships with governments, businesses and individuals to work towards a common vision for the future of conservation in Palau.
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