To assess the effectiveness of different Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), researchers at the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) conduct long-term monitoring programs of Palau’s Protected Areas Network (PAN). So far in 2023, five PAN-MPA-related technical reports have been published, each one looking at the results of surveys conducted at one MPA – Olterukl MPA located in Ngatpang State, Medal Ngediull MPA located in Airai State, Ngerumekaol MPA located in Koror State, Ngermasech Conservation Area located in Ngardmau State, and Ngelukes Conservation Area located in Ngchesar State.
“Long-term monitoring allows us to understand how the MPAs benefit coral reefs, seagrass beds, commercially-important fish, and macroinvertebrates,” stated Geraldine Rengiil, PICRC’s Research Director. “From the results, we can make management recommendations to improve the MPAs and the health of Palau’s ocean.”
The technical report on Olterukl MPA presented the results of the first surveys conducted at that MPA. It found that the MPA had a higher density of clams, sea cucumbers, and fish than a nearby unprotected site and that the protection seemed to especially benefit parrotfish. However, the area is also being impacted by nutrient runoff, sedimentation, and shipping-related damage, which affects its ability to protect seagrass and corals.
Ngermasech Conservation Area and Ngerumekaol MPA have been surveyed every other year since 2015 and 2014 respectively. Both were found to be effective at protecting macroinvertebrates like clams, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers, but the impacts on fish and coral are harder to measure. Future surveys will allow researchers to better understand the dynamics that drive the changes inthese areas.
Ngelukes Conservation Area and Medal Ngediull MPA have each been surveyed regularly since 2011. Both MPAs are located near watersheds and the researchers concluded that this is impacting their effectiveness. At Medal Ngediull MPA the watersheds seem to be enhancing nutrient concentration, which is causing an increase in macroalgae cover and a decrease in coral cover. Sedimentation from the watersheds also seems to be negatively affecting the MPA. PICRC researchers recommend mitigating the runoff from the watersheds. At Ngelukes Conservation Area, management of the Ngerdorch Watershed needs to improve to reduce the amount of sedimentation in the bay. An increase in the size of the Ngelukes CA is also recommended.