The high peaks in Ngeremlengui are surrounded by dense forest on Babeldaob.

A collaborative study examining forest and vegetation cover changes in Palau from 1921 to 2014 (93 years), on Babeldaob Island, has revealed that forests have increased while mangroves remained stable during this period. The study, recently published in the peer-reviewed Journal “Land”, used aerial photos, topographical and vegetation maps, and satellite imagery to reveal vegetation dynamics from the beginning of the Japanese colonial administration (1921) to near present day (2014). Five “snap shots” in time, sets of historical aerial and satellite images (1947, 1976, 1992, 2002, 2006), proved valuable in documenting changes since the end of WWII.  The study was led by former Peace Corp volunteer Julian Dendy (aka “Spuns”) from Coral Reef Research Foundation on Malakal, and included collaboration with Dino Mesubed and Bungelong Tebelak from Palau Forestry, the Institute of Pacific Island Forestry in Hilo, Hawaii, Paul Collins, and Dr. Akiko Iida from the University of Tokyo, Japan.

The study represents one of the longest and most detailed glimpses of vegetation change over time in the global tropics. Palau is an unusual case due to its history over the last century, as during the Japanese colonial period many forests on Babledaob were converted to agricultural use resulting in a decrease in area of forests.  Since WWII, however, forests have increased their coverage, taking over former agricultural land, while coverage of mangroves has remained stable. Forest cover has continued to increase during and after completion of the Compact Road (2000-2006). At present forests cover nearly 75% of Babeldaob, while another 10% has mangroves. This contrasts with the international trend in tropical forest and mangrove cover over the past 50+ years, which is almost universally negative, particularly after major road construction.   

The study’s authors speculate the positive trend in forest cover is due to Palau’s sovereignty and control of their natural resources, plus the low density and economic marginalization of the human population on Babeldaob. The study was supported by the USDA Forest Service Region 5 and the USDA Institute of Pacific Island Forestry.

‘Land’ is an open-source journal, and the article can be viewed at https://doi.org/10.3390/land11060830.  For more information, please contact Coral Reef Research Foundation, Malakal, home of the “jellyfish wall”, at 488-5255.

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