By: L.N. Reklai
March 9, 2017 (Koror, Palau) A business proposal to build an exclusive high quality eco-resort on an island of Belual a Smau in Peleliu is drawing lots of resistance from various individuals, local civil societies and even international groups. Due to great deal of comments being received on this project, Environmental Quality Protection Board has extended the deadline for receiving comments to March 14, 2017.
The cause of the resistance comes from the very unique position and role this little dot of an island surrounded by sandbar plays in Palau as well as the Pacific eco-system. It has been named by a global bird organization, Bird International, as Oceania’s most important migratory bird site. It is a wintering and stopover site for over 26 different species of shore birds, 4 of which are globally endangered (IUCN 2015), 5- globally near threatened species and an additional 4 from subspecies populations prioritized for conservation by the East Asia Australia Flyway Partnership (EAAFP). It is also home to 19 species of waterbirds and 16 landbirds, bringing the total number of species on the island to 60 – the highest number recorded anywhere in Palau.
The resort proposal seeks to blend its facilities to meet the environmental restrains but still finds itself facing strong resistance.
The project seeks to construct four villas with water sport center. It will also include support facilities such as lobby, restaurant, staff house, equipment room, sewage treatment plant, power supply, water sport center and floating bridge connected to the floating dock.
The villas are to be built as tree houses, elevated above ground and connected by walkways according to the Environmental Assessment (EA) Report.
In project conception, it states that it seeks “To provide a luxury hotel with complete satisfaction to the tourists in terms of facilities and service standards; to showcase the rich terrestrial (flora and fauna) diversity of the island of Smau and the rich marine diversity within the waters of Peleliu; to educate the tourists of the importance of protecting the natural landform and all species within the island and the water surrounding the island (nature conservation); and to make this “Eco Tourism” concept a model resort development in Palau while the environment is kept in pristine condition.
Palau Conservation Society commented on the EA proposal, Can 3,700 shorebirds comprising 26 different species, 4 of which are globally endangered (IUCN 2015), 5- globally near threatened species and an additional 4 from subspecies populations prioritized for conservation by the East Asia Australia Flyway Partnership (EAAFP), sustainably co-exist with a hotel development in that seascape?” Unfortunately, the answer is NO, they cannot.”
The numerous comments that have been received by EQPB are against the development, stating that it will irreversibly affect a unique habitat that is critical to survival of many species.
“If the Peleliu Lkes seascape was developed and disturbance associated with continuous human occupation occurred, would the area continue to be a productive habitat for these migratory shorebirds? The answer is NO. It is easy to find countless examples of altered intertidal habitats across Southeast Asia and China that no longer support migratory shorebirds,” stated PCS in its response.
Birds have been tagged and tracked from this site to breeding grounds in Russia, China and even New Zealand. According to report from McKinlay, this is a layover site where birds come for winter, feed and build up fat for their journey back to their breeding grounds in summer. Any change to this habitat will doom the next generation of birds.
The project is called Palau Stingray Resort under South Pacific Capital Investments, Palau Inc. under an owner, Mr. Ha Ming Yung. The estimated project cost is $5,400,000.00. [/restrict]