Pristine Seas

Palau Expedition

Picture of Palau waters

Photograph by Enric Sala

In September 2014 Enric Sala and the Pristine Seas expedition team returned to the South Pacific for a scientific expedition to investigate the underwater ecosystems of Palau.

While 70 percent of the human population lives on the main island of Koror, the entire nation consists of 250 islands, many of them entirely uninhabited. After World War II, population growth and the intensification of fishing using modern technology began to take a toll on the undersea life of the area. In collaboration with the Palau International Coral Reef Center, this scientific expedition explored Palau's deep-sea and offshore ecosystems and evaluated the efficacy of its existing marine protected areas (MPAs).

Our resulting scientific assessments show that MPAs help maintain the rich marine biodiversity for which Palau is known. Total fish biomass was two times larger in MPAs than in nearby unprotected areas, and biomass of top predators was five times higher. The first deep-sea explorations revealed abundant fauna, including cutthroat eels, rattails, lantern sharks, and even a tiger shark found at a depth of 515 meters.

Recognizing the value of restoring and preserving the ancient balance, in 2013 President Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr., announced his intention to protect 80 percent of Palau's waters as a National Marine Sanctuary. On October 22, 2015, Palau passed the proposed legislation, protecting the largest percentage of marine territory of any nation in the world. The new marine sanctuary will protect 500,000 square kilometers of Palau's waters, helping to ensure the long-term sustainability of marine resources, improve local fisheries, and support increased diving tourism revenues. This is an incredible step forward for this island nation and for the world.

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