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Scientists Study Effects of Palau’s Strong Marine Protection

Known as the jewel of Micronesia, Palau is an isolated group of more than pristine limestone islands located in the Western Pacific Ocean. Palau has long been a leader in protecting their flourishing yet fragile ocean environment. In 2015, Palau became the first nation to fully protect 80% of their ocean space, establishing one of the largest protected areas in the world. The Palau National Marine Sanctuary covers an area of 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles) - larger than the U.S. state of California.


Seven years later, a team of researchers set out to better understand the effects of marine protection on reef resilience and ocean health. The expedition team consisted of scientists from the Waitt Institute, Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s 100 Island Challenge and One Reef.

Photo by Brian Zgliczynski


Scientific methods

After a strict quarantine period, the expedition team set off to collect underwater data about the coral reef ecosystems and fish populations of nearshore reef ecosystems to inform long term management strategies. Over a period of 15 days, researchers conducted coral reef surveys at 66 dive sites across the Republic of Palau collecting 3-D imagery of corals and quantifying reef fish assemblages.


Teams spent ~90 hours underwater and observed 400 species of fish. Using technology developed by the 100 Island Challenge, scientists captured ~265,000 coral reef images to develop 3-D maps that will show how reefs change over time. The Waitt Institute will produce a scientific report detailing the expedition’s findings.


Photo by Brian Zgliczynski


Bul

Safeguarding the ocean is deeply rooted in Palau’s history and culture. For centuries, traditional leaders in Palau have worked to protect local waters through enactment of a “bul”— temporary bans on fishing or catching certain species in order to give marine life to a chance to regenerate and protect habitats critical to a community’s food security.


Photo by Brian Zgliczynski


Our Ocean Conference

Palau will soon become the first small island nation to host the Our Ocean Conference, where world leaders will gather to identify solutions to manage marine resources, increase the ocean’s resilience to climate change and safeguard its health for generations to come. As a global example of marine protection, Palau is poised to step up as a leader in fostering collaboration and action on marine protection between ocean nations.


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