Heraclitus, A Greek philosopher born in 544 BC once said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” In many ways, the Center is the same. The past two years have been very busy and exciting – we reached more students in Palau through our Outreach Program; increased the depth and amount of our research programs, including our recent findings in Nikko Bay; and continued to build the capacity of our staff (several of whom are currently pursuing their master’s and Ph.D. degrees). We are constantly moving and changing – visiting schools, conducting community meetings, doing research, and training conservation officers and students, and of course, collaborating with our partner agencies in meetings on-island and abroad. One of the greatest perks of working at the Center is that it never gets boring – we are always moving forward and never stepping into the same river twice.
Our research programs not only focus on local priority issues such as fisheries management and tourism impacts, but on global issues as well, including coral bleaching and ocean acidification. Working with our partners outside of Palau in different research projects, we have discovered amazing areas in Palau with harsh living conditions (i.e., more acidic and too warm for coral growth) which actually support healthy coral communities. This occurrence has been believed to be impossible until now. Because of this curious case, we continue to study this unusual phenomenon to understand it better.
For our local research efforts, we have expanded our fisheries research by incorporating cutting-edge technology to more accurately measure fish to determine size limit regulations for different fish species. We have also completed studies that aim to better understand the relationship between fish sizes and reproductive maturity, which is also a critical piece of information for sustainable fishing efforts. Results of this project tell us that many of the fish caught in our waters do not live long enough to reproduce, and therefore, are not maintaining their population. For highly vulnerable and protected fish species, such as maml (Napoleon wrasse) and kemedukl (bumphead parrotfish) our research have focused on estimating their population to track their recovery. This information is useful in guiding our decisions as to when we can harvest them again without severely affecting their population, so that the next generation will continue to enjoy and benefit from them.
The Protected Areas Network (PAN) is our national strategy to conserving our land and marine resources. For the marine environment, Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) have been established and to date, much of the success we see are still site-specific. In addition to assessing the impacts on marine resources as a result of the MPAs, the Center has also been working with many of our partners to better link these specific MPA sites into an effective and connected network of MPAs.
Today, we are facing a new challenge in our country: uncontrolled tourism growth. Tourism to Palau is a double-edged sword. As our main source of income, we rely on it for our economy. Unfortunately, uncontrollable mass tourism always puts a severe strain on our pristine environment. Because of the increased threat and environmental degradation, the Center has initiated a new research program that focuses on determining and assessing the impacts of tourism on our marine resources.
Throughout the year, we continue to extend the reach of our outreach program. I am proud that in the last year, we reached 82% of all the students in Palau through our education and outreach programs. These programs include aquarium guided tours, special school presentations, Arts and Tide Calendar contest, Internship Programs, and community meetings.
While working on research, education and outreach and the Palau Aquarium, we continue to live by the Center’s core values: “To invest in people and learning.” Two of our researchers have returned with their Master’s degrees; two others have begun their master’s programs and two more are in a PhD programs. We also continue to invest in training opportunities for our staff here in Palau, as well as abroad, through trainings and conferences.
Looking at what we have accomplished over the past two years, I, along with all the staff and board members, know that they were achieved because of the support from all of you – from the national government to state governments; from traditional leaders to community members; and from private businesses and individuals – all of whom have been supporting the Center. Without your support, the achievements of the Center would not have been possible.
Thank you for your support! Together, we will continue to grow to meet the many challenges facing us here in Palau and around the world. With your support, we look toward the next two years with anticipation and promise. [/restrict]