The Palau Congress today passed legislation to fully protect 80 percent of the Pacific island nation’s waters, an area known as one of the Seven Underwater Wonders of the World. As a result, 193,000 square miles (500,000 square kilometers), an expanse larger than the state of California, will exclude all types of fishing. With this vote, Palau now protects the largest percentage of marine territory of any nation in the world.
National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala, head of the Society’s Pristine Seas project, led an expedition to Palau in September 2014 to assess the potential for a marine protected area there. Sala commended today’s action to protect what he calls a “pristine paradise,” stating: “President Remengesau and the Palau government have a bold vision that protects this vital resource for Palauans, builds economic revenue through sustainable ecotourism and benefits local fisheries. It is an incredible step forward for this island nation and for the world.”
In 2009, Palau was the first country to create a shark sanctuary encompassing the entire country. In the years that followed, the Palau government, the Palau International Coral Reef Center and the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project conducted scientific studies to determine what other protections might be necessary to preserve the unique, pristine waters there. This area is also the subject of a National Geographic documentary entitled “Return to Paradise,” which debuted in Palau on April 22 — Earth Day 2015.
In June of this year, the Palau government ramped up its efforts to deter illegal fishing, destroying a number of Vietnamese fishing boats that were poaching sea cucumbers and reef fish off Palau’s coasts without permission.