The Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) has taken proactive steps to ensure the safety of staff, visitors, students and community members during the current COVID-19 pandemic. All the Center’s activities that do not involve direct public contact will continue without any changes. As preventive measures, other aspects of the Center’s work that involve gatherings of people have been postponed, including the closing of the Palau Aquarium, Gift Shop, and facilities to the general public. The center has also cancelled all community outreach, school programs, and internships until the end of the summer. Research, aquarium and outreach work continues, but with limited community involvement.
Although many important outward-facing activities have been temporarily suspended, the Center continues to carry out internal work vital to its mission in supporting coral reef and ocean stewardship through research and education.
Researchers recently conducted their biennial marine protected area (MPA) survey at Ngemai Conservation Area in Ngiwal. Every month, a different site in a different state is surveyed – next month, surveys will be conducted at Ebiil MPA in Ngarchelong. Because these surveys are conducted in small groups, risk to both staff and the community is minimized. At the same time, outreach planning is progressing, and outreach officers are working to create programs and events to be implemented in schools and community once it is safe to do so.
With the Center’s closure, one of the priorities was to ensure a safe work environment; the labs, offices and other work areas were sanitized. Maintenance staff is also working diligently to beautify and update grounds and facilities, carrying out work such as painting, repairing, and deep cleaning. Aquarium staff is updating and cleaning tanks, while also curating exhibits and revitalizing animals. New displays are being designed and printed, so that when the Aquarium opens again to the public, there will be new information to explore. Also at the Aquarium, disinfecting routines have been established to ensure surfaces are cleaned periodically throughout the day.
While Palau weathers changes, PICRC will continue to support activities which can be safely and hygienically practiced. “We want to assure the public that we are still carrying out our mission,” stated PICRC CEO, Dr. Yimnang Golbuu. “We are grateful for the support of the community and our donors; a support that is especially valuable at a time like this.”