In an effort to determine what organisms live in the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS), the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) will be using new technology called Environmental DNA (eDNA), according to the PNMS update published the beginning of this month.

The approach, which involves collecting large water samples to study bits of DNA left over from organisms, is meant to test the effectiveness of the protected area, as well as to study the effects of environmental phenomena such as climate change on marine life.

The study, which seeks to establish greater insight into the vast marine sanctuary, comes at a time when upcoming elections are putting greater pressure on the PNMS to prove its impact on marine conservation.

PICRC CEO Dr. YimnangGolbuu emphasized that, while pelagic species are often the focus of the sanctuary, the mass biodiversity in oceanic environments is also important to look at.

“When we think about the PNMS . . . we just think about tuna or marlin,” said Dr. Golbuu. “But there is so much life out in the deep ocean.”

The report states that, while initially experts estimated that 800 marine species live in the sanctuary, this is probably an underestimate. eDNA samples, which are distributed by ocean currents and come from mucus, skin cells or feces of organisms, are expected to provide a clearer idea of the variety of these species, including “rare and transient species”, as well as tracking changes in biodiversity over time.

Dr. Golbuu said that, if this new approach works, it will make studying biodiversity much easier.

The study will be conducted in collaboration with the Stanford Center for Ocean Solutions and Palau’s Division of Marine Law Enforcement, with funding from the Waitt Foundation.

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