Moves to delay the implementation of the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Act- the law that will close 80 percent of Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to commercial fishing will impact the nation’s international recognition as an eco- friendly destination.

Dr. Yimnang Golbuu, CEO of Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) expressed concerns over the proposed legislation to delay Palau National Marine Sanctuary implementation.

“A popular expression comes to mind when I think about postponing the full implementation of the PNMS Act, “Actions speak louder than words.” If we postponed this full implementation, this action will give a signal to the people of Palau, and around the world, that the PNMS is not as important to us as we have claimed it to be,” Golbuu said.

In his letter to Senator Frank Kyota, Golbuu said PICRC, in partnership with University of Hawaii and National Geographic Pristine Seas Program research showed that a number of tourists reason for visiting Palau is because of the PNMS.

He said the research was to assess the market potential and willingness to pay for both pelagic and reef fish, and also to obtain tourists’ perceptions of PNMS.

Based on the research, Golbuu said that visitors are willing to pay $10 more for local, sustainably sourced tuna. Our research also shows that for those tourists who have heard of PNMS, 43% said that PNMS was very important in their decision to travel to Palau.

The research also showed that 17 percent also indicated that they would not have come to Palau if it were not for the PNMS.

“That means, if we had 100,000 tourists who have heard about PNMS coming to Palau, 43,000 of them said PNMS was very important factor for them in deciding to come to Palau and 17,000 said they would not have come to Palau if we did not have the PNMS.” Golbuu said in the letter.

Golbuu said the Senate should reject the proposed measures.

“I strongly urge your committee to reject these proposed amendments so that we can ensure that the work that have begun will continue. We have been building momentum towards full implementation of PNMS in 2020. It is very important that we do not disrupt this momentum so that we continue to strive for full implementation, for sustainable management, for food security and for bringing full benefits of our resources to our people.”

He said it will also ensure protection of the marine resources and a creation of a domestic fishing zone within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) with Palauan’s as the recipients of the economic benefits from fisheries resources.

The two bills introduced last year highlighted that the lower number of tourists visiting Palau affected the revenues from the Environmental Impact Fee.

Every visitor coming to Palau pays an $100 environmental fee. The environmental fee is the primary financing mechanism for the Palau National Marine Sanctuary.

One measure calls for a 10-year delay in the implementation while another bill asked for a delay of the implementation for five years.

Both bills took into account the declining tourism numbers that affecting Palau’s economy.

The $100 fee is allocated as follows:  $10 to Fisheries Protection Trust Fund; $12.50 to state governments; $25 to the security, operation, maintenance, and improvement of the Palau International Airport   $30 earmarked for Protected Areas Network; and $22.50 to revert to the National Treasury.

The senators who proposed the delay in the implementation said that the low collection is also affecting the funding of other agencies that rely on the fee.

Palau set aside over 500,000 square kilometers or 80 percent of its maritime waters for full protection.

The remaining 20 percent of the Palau’s seas will be reserved for domestic fishing. (Bernadette H. Carreon)