In February, President Tommy Remengesau Jr. announced the Republic of Palau intends to become the first nation to close its entire marine territory – 230,000 square miles of waters – to commercial fishing.
Under the plan, Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone, extending 200 miles from shore, will be managed to encourage marine recreational activities, particularly diving and sport fishing, both of which are burgeoning eco-tourism industries compatible with conservation and sustainable use of the nation’s marine resources.
The closure would make Palau the world’s first marine recreational eco-tourism development zone.
An independent nation since 1994, Palau lies at the eastern edge of the Coral Triangle and a four-and-a-half hour flight from Tokyo. Blue marlin, black marlin, striped marlin, and sailfish are just a few of the more than 1,300 species of fish, 700 species of coral, and an estimated 130 species of rare sharks and stingrays that populate Palau’s waters, which support more coral, fish and other invertebrates per square mile of marine habitat than anywhere else in the world.
Recognized by National Geographic magazine as one of the “Last Great Places on Earth," Palau’s Rock Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But management is failing to keep pace with rising pressure of commercial overfishing and illegal fishing, pollution, and climate change.
President Remegnesau is explicit that he does not intend to do away with all fishing. “Make no mistake, this is not an effort to lock up Palau’s waters and throw away the key,” he said in his UN address. “Our economy is our environment and the environment is our economy . . . ending commercial fishing will give nature a chance to heal from what the scientists are telling us is the damage caused by the intensive commercial fishing pressures.”
Ellen Peel, President of The Billfish Foundation (TBF) said, “President Remengesau, Jr. is the boldest national leader in marine management by taking concrete steps to grow a strong sustainable eco-tourism trade through diving and sport fishing. He is setting a precedent for a needed paradigm shift from seeking to kill the most tonnage of declining ocean resources to one that conserves and protects the resources with which tourists will interact for decades while spending money to do so.”
Palau’s model can serve as a model for many other nations that can better sustain their economy and insure food security by focusing on its marine eco-tourism trade.