The Hawksbill Sea turtle, or ngasech – in Palauan language, is an important turtle species in Palau, prized for its shell. Its shell has been money for Palauan women for centuries, but it has been listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN since 1996.
Like many other important species in the world that have been wiped out due to overfishing, loss of habitat, indiscriminate fishing, loss of nesting grounds to human development, and pollution, the hawksbill sea turtle faces a real threat of extinction, species that no longer exist.
“Having the protected area’s networks, like what Palau has now, gives these species a fighting chance of survival,” stated Dr. Classen of the Palau International Coral Reef Center on the likelihood of the hawksbill survival.
But the threats are not just overfishing or overharvesting, it’s the dying sea grass, poor law enforcement, and runoffs from land into the ocean that contain heavy metals and chemicals that pose a danger to sea turtles.
Having protected areas help to mitigate the impact and protect species, both terrestrial and marine.
Palau’s growing network of Protected Areas sites has reached 39 sites. Of the 39, 29 are marine protected areas, and 10 are terrestrial protected areas. The sites are from the northernmost state across the main island all the way to the southernmost area, the Helen Reef of Hatohobei State. Outside of the twelve miles, from each state shoreline, the Palau National Marine Sanctuary extends out 200 nautical miles of the protected area, except the northeastern swathe, 20% of the Exclusive Economic Zone which is open to commercial fishing.
Marine species, some stay within their territories while others have wider roaming ranges, such as the Hawksbill turtle. Protecting large swathes of the ocean provides this turtle species and other living things that pass through or live within the area to survive.
Having a wider protected area gives species “a little bit of gap where it can survive and withstand global impacts.”
Palau is working with the rest of the Pacific to expand the network of protected areas pushing for the 30/30 goal of protected areas, said Minister Steven Victor of MAFE. In addition, Palau is supporting the passage of the UN policy to manage areas of oceans beyond national jurisdictions (BBNJ).