Small developing island nations are experiencing climate change impacts the most. The low-lying archipelago of Palau is a paradise of prodigious biodiversity with over 1,300 species of fish, about 700 species of hard and soft corals, and marine lakes that host hordes of non-stinging jellyfish in an aquatic area about the size of California. The relentless measures to crackdown on unsustainable and environmentally damaging practices in their smaller than New York City country in the Northern Pacific Ocean have shown a positive impact on the abundance and diversity of the ecosystem.
Around two years ago, Palau officially designated 193,000 square miles of its coastal territory as a fully protected marine reserve, where no commercial fishing or mining can take place making it the sixth largest fully protected marine areas in the world.
Illustrated on the map shown to the right, the marine sanctuary in light blue are areas where no commercial fishing can take place. In the dark blue are areas where locals can forage for fish to survive.
As commercial fishing disappeared, the country looked towards generating money by promoting water sports, such as snorkeling and scuba diving. The country focused on eco-tourism while teaching people about the delicate balance that the oceans provide to Palau and the rest of the planet.
It was only a decade ago that dozens of shark boats used to dock at Palau, hanging their shark fins up to dry to supply the demand for shark fin soup.
Vietnamese fishing boats were caught illegally harvesting eight metric tons of sea cucumbers for the black market in Asia in the country’s waters in 2015. Although this small island nation has no military and only one law enforcement ship, the criminals’ ships were nevertheless burned miles off the coast of Palau.
“We hope to send a very clear message to poachers, who are raping our marine environment,” Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., the president of Palau, told National Geographic. “We will not tolerate any more unsustainable acts. Palau guarantees, you will return with nothing.” Palau’s food and economic security depend on the ocean and conservation of the marine life are vital to the future of the Republic of Palau. President Remengesau has been rewarded Time Magazine’s Heroes of the Environment and UNEP Champion of the Earth in 2014 for his establishment of Protected Area Network for the country’s marine biodiversity, which has generated $1.3 million a year in green fees for community conservation since 2009, according to UN Environment.
Science has confirmed that protection of the ecosystem helps the biodiversity and biomass thrive. A paper published on March 30, 2017, in the journal PLOS ONE, researchers from the Fisheries Ecology Research Laboratory at the University of Hawaii report that the protected waters had twice the number of fish as waters that were unprotected. There were also five times as many numbers of predatory fish that is a key food source for other predators. The research was done by not disturbing the marine life as much as possible by not taking any samples, instead, they derived the results from photographs and visual estimates.