Places We Protect: The Republic of Palau

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 seas also play an important role as one of the world’s key tuna fisheries. 

Palau’s inland marine 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.

The Nature Conservancy has worked with Palau’s community leaders and government agencies for 25 years. 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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Threats from overexploited fisheries, tourism, 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.

The Conservancy and partners have supported Palau’s major advancements towards protecting its natural heritage.


The government of Palau is a key driver behind the Micronesia Challenge, beginning in 2005 with President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr.’s commitment on behalf of Palau to effectively conserve at least 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 its natural resources was the creation of a national Protected Areas Network. The network serves as the foundation for Palau’s natural resource conservation efforts and includes sites from all 16 states, covering both land and sea. The Conservancy worked closely with government and communities to ensure the Protected Areas Network will benefit local people and protect the island’s wealth of biodiversity.


While coral reefs in the Micronesia region are isolated ecological systems, they are connected through ocean currents and through a long history of Micronesians working together to advance their livelihoods, way of life and cultures. It was in Palau that the Conservancy developed the theory of coral resilience — the idea of protecting corals that are resilient in the face of climate change impacts, such as coral bleaching, by including them in Protected Areas Networks. Through careful design, we can place these protected areas so that they are connected by ocean currents — allowing coral larvae from resilient reefs to replenish damaged sites.

Palau is a role model for incorporating principles of resilience to climate change, providing lessons for the Conservancy’s coral conservation work around the globe and helping preserve the incredible diversity of corals and marine life in the region.


Recognizing the importance of conserving its amazing environment, Palau instituted a Green Fee in 2009 with guidance from the Conservancy. The Palau Green Fee, paid by all departing visitors, provides a key source of funding that supports management at sites in Palau’s Protected Areas Network. This success has inspired partners in Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and the Northern Mariana Islands to explore similar fees with the Conservancy’s assistance.


Palau is one of the 16 island nations in the Pacific Ocean from which 60 percent of the world’s annual tuna catch is harvested. Palau owns and manages 5 percent of these waters. This is the last stronghold of global tuna stocks in an industry that is overfished and provides only modest revenues to the local countries where fish are caught. The Conservancy is working with Palau’s government to evaluate and improve tuna fishing practices, as well as strengthening a surveillance, monitoring and enforcement program for fishing vessels that will support Palau’s efforts to establish a national marine sanctuary. 


Palauans have a deep respect for the ocean and its inhabitants, including sharks. Sharks are critical to a resilient system, because they are the top predators and help maintain the health of the populations of smaller fish. Without sharks, the delicate balance of fish and sea life changes, with negative impacts to the livelihoods of Palauans. 

Despite a national ban on shark finning in 2003, foreign fishing vessels continued to be caught and fined for illegally fishing for sharks. In response, Palau created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009. The sanctuary covers 230,000 square miles of ocean, an area the size of France. 

In addition to protecting sharks, Palau’s sanctuary has served as a model for the region. Following Palau’s lead, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Marshall Islands all established shark sanctuaries, and the Federated States of Micronesia, recently passed legislation to establish its own sanctuary. The combined Micronesia Challenge shark sanctuary will cover more than 3 million square miles — an area larger than the landmass of the United States.


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