The tiny island nation of Palau is about to become home to one of the world’s largest marine sanctuaries, when its president, Tommy Remengesau signs into law a bill that will make most of the country’s waters, about the size of California, a marine reserve. According to ABC News Australia, the reserve is 500,000 square kilometers and converse 80 percent of the country’s territorial waters. President Remengesau said that the country will focus its efforts less on fishing and more on snorkeling, scuba, and eco-tourism.
“We’re not just closing our waters and throwing away the key,” Remengesau said at a United Nations oceans conference last year.
“We’re closing our waters because we will do our part in making sure that there’s healthy stocks of fish in Palau that can migrate to other places, and that there are other options to grow the economy. These are important ways to make a living and at the same time preserve the pristine environment that we have been blessed with in Palau.”
According to Seth Horsmeyer of The Pew Charitable Trusts, there was not a single vote against the bill in the house or the congress. The Pew Charitable Trusts helped provide technical support for the effort to create the sanctuary. While industrial and foreign fishing vessels as well as exports will be banned under the sanctuary’s rules, a local fishing zone for domestic use will be established for the island nation’s 21,000 inhabitants.
Palau has been at the forefront of marine conservation for the last several years. It created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, resulting in the banning of all commercial shark fishing within 200 miles of the country’s exclusive economic zone. It has though suffered from the effects of climate change and ocean acidification. The people of Palau, in agreeing to establish a massive marine sanctuary in its waters is testament to the fact that issues beyond their control are affecting the tiny island nation and they want to proactively do things to make a change for its future generations.