Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr declares marine sanctuary, bans ALL commercial fishing

palau pres

palau pres

Once again, Palau leads the world in protecting the ocean. Palau's President Tommy Remengesau Jr. has declared the Pacific nation will become a marine sanctuary, where all commercial fishing is prohibited.In 2009, Johnson Toribiong, who was then the President of Palau*, declared the country’s territorial waters a shark sanctuary. Since that time, other countries followed suit and have created shark sanctuaries, including the Maldives, Honduras, Marshall Islands and French Polynesia.  "The ocean is our way of life. It is our culture. It is our livelihood. It is our economy,”  said President Remengesau at  a UN oceans conference. "It makes every sense for our sustainability as a people, as an island nation, and as a community. In just my generation I've seen stocks of fish dwindle down, I've seen the sizes of fish taken become smaller,”  he said. "This is something that is far more than the economical loss of revenues for companies or other countries – it’s about a livelihood that's going to be decimated if we don't take responsible action.”

Palau currently has commercial fishing contracts with Japan, Taiwan and several private companies, which will be allowed to expire. Locals and tourists will continue to be able to fish, but no commercial scale operations will take place.

Mr Remengesau noted that a dead shark is worth several hundred dollars, but a live shark is worth $1.9 million in tourism during its life span. He says his country will promote scuba diving, snorkeling and eco-tourism as an alternative income to commercial fishing. "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." It will also ensure that there are healthy stocks of fish in Palau that can migrate to other places.

Enforcement of the commercial fishing ban is expected to be a challenge, as the country only has one patrol boat to cover its economic zone which is roughly the size of France. Last year it implemented a trial using unmanned drones, and is looking for other technology partners to help enforce the ban.

Palau is also urging the United Nations to adopt a new Sustainable Development Goal to protect the world's oceans, a follow-up to the Millennium Development Goals, which pledged countries to reduce poverty and improve health and environmental protection by 2015. Stuart Beck, Ambassador of the Republic of Palau for Oceans and Seas, says the proposal for a 'stand alone' goal has three parts.

  • Healthy oceans - let's clean up the plastic gyre - lets stop dumping garbage.

  • Restoration of our fish stocks - we can actually achieve that in our lifetime if we're smart about it.

  • Bring some equity to the current resources being taken from these oceans by others.

Mr Remengesau says the health of oceans affects countries in a variety of ways, from rising sea levels, to ocean acidification and unpredictable weather. "It doesn't matter where you live around the world; we are all connected and are impacted by what we do to the oceans and the health of the oceans and the seas. And so it is important that the United Nations in the next Millennium Development Goals, really put a stand alone policy on this."

Deputy Secretary-General with the UN, Jan Elliason, paid tribute to Palau and other island countries for raising awareness of the issue. "They have an acute sense of the dangers of climate change and the level of sea rise - becoming an existential threat for them," he said. "They are a bit like the canaries in the coal mine; the canaries that warn us that the oxygen is [running] out. We should listen to those states."

* On September 25, 2010,  Shark Research Institute presented President Toribiong with the Ocean Legacy Award for declaring Palau the world's first shark sanctuary.