As lockdown forces Palau to consider new ways to promote food security, Kayangel State’s ecotourism industry may serve as a guideline for how to sustainably live off the land.   

Lazarus Meyar, a State Ranger and conservationist, is spearheading the tourism industry in Kayangel. The type of tourism he manages is focused on showcasing subsistence living on the islands, which immerses his guests in traditional ways of catching and harvesting food.

Lazarus runs one of the few homestays in the state, and is the only local who runs a tourism operation. Guests who are staying with him are taken fishing and crab-hunting, and are provided with locally-grown bananas and coconuts.

Although Kayangel has one convenience store, Lazarus stressed that fishing and home-gardening remain essential to locals’ diet.

“Many of the men on Kayangel are fishermen, for local consumption and to sell in markets in Koror,” he said. “And almost every home in Kayangel has a garden now.”

However, he pointed out that as a conservationist, he tries to use the tourism industry to teach people conservation ethics, which not everyone on the island abides by. As an example, he pointed to the practice of selling and eating turtle eggs.

 “A single turtle can feed everyone on the island,” he said. “However, some locals who find turtle eggs in the sand will collect them and sell them for a dollar a piece. The state really needs to find a way to stop people from doing that.”

Lazarus also takes his tourists snorkeling over his clam farm off of the coast of Kayangel Islet. The hatchery he oversees includes between two and three hundred giant clams. Right now, he says that the nursery is not for food security, but strictly for tourists to snorkel above and view.

Taking care of the nursery involves ensuring that all clams are getting enough sunlight to grow, which for Lazarus means frequently diving to the bottom to resituate those which were moved by ocean currents.

But according to Lazarus, the most prevalent challenge of sustaining a clam farm is poaching. At first the nursery was close to the coast, but because locals often stole from the farm he was forced to move the clams further offshore, where they are not as easily accessible to poachers.

On Ngeriungs Islet, Lazarus takes his guests on a path around the perimeter of the island, where he set traps for coconut crabs. Although the traps, made from open coconut shells, almost always draw in crabs, he refuses to catch and eat juvenile ones, with bodies smaller than four inches across. He stressed the importance of keeping this rule to preserve the crab population, and deplored the frequent hunting of juvenile crabs.

“The biggest problem around here is making sure that people understand conservation,” he said. “We know how to live off the land, but we need to make sure that we aren’t greedy, so there’s always enough for everyone.”