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Global Ideas

Keeping Palau pristine

The tiny country of Palau has created a major marine protected area to keep the ocean healthy for marine life - and people.

Palau’s Rock Islands

The small island-nation of Palau has designated 80 percent of its waters as a no-take zone

Organization: Palau National Marine Sanctuary, Palau, Micronesia

In 2015, the tiny country of Palau, in the western Pacific Ocean, took a bold step. It joined an international community of island nations committed to protecting vast swaths of the ocean from overfishing. Otherwise known as marine protected areas, the reserves are designed to allow fish stocks to recover and to promote marine conservation.

At 193,000 square miles, the newly created Palau National Marine Sanctuary is the sixth-largest such area in the world. Of Palau's territorial waters, 80 percent have now been set aside as a protected area, where no fishing or other extractive activities are allowed.

According to Jennifer Koskelin-Gibbons, a representative for The Pew Charitable Trusts, the island had a lot more at stake than the loss of revenue from commercial fishing. Further decline of the island's marine ecosystems, due to overfishing, would have had dire consequences for the island's tourism sector.

"Protecting the fishery is a means to an end to protect an asset - to us, this is one and the same," said Koskelin-Gibbons.

Dive operators depend on Palau's vibrant reefs and pristine environment to attract customers, she said. In 2015, nearly 170,000 tourists visited the island, which has its own meager population of 17,000 inhabitants. Diving alone pumps around $90 million into the economy each year.

The government of Palau needs to ensure that they keep coming. "We want to offer divers a world-class experience," said Koskelin-Gibbons. In short: fewer boats chasing down fish means more fish can reproduce, which leads to a healthy ecosystem and a robust economy.

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