President Tommy E. Remengesau, who signed into law the Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS) in 2015, reaffirmed his hope that Palau continues to support the large conservation area after the end of his term at the Fifth Anniversary of the PNMS, held on Wednesday evening at the Palau National Gym.
The PNMS has been a widely discussed and debated topic throughout the election campaigns, with many presidential, Senate, and House candidates arguing that the huge initiative has yet to pay off.
However, President Remengesau pointed to the scientific research which he says supports the initiative, as well as to the financial benefits which have been garnered by international recognition for the PNMS.
“Science is telling us what needs to be done, not our politics,” said the President. He cited studies which have shown that well-regulated sanctuaries expand fish-stocks, including the traditional Palauan practice of “bul”, as well as research conducted by the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) and Stanford University which is meant to improve the effectiveness of the PNMS.
Remengesau also spoke about those countries which have contributed millions of dollars to Palau to support management of its maritime zones, such as Australia, Taiwan, and Japan’s Nippon Foundation. “These are all because of the PNMS,” he said, adding that Palau’s tourism market, which is much bigger than nearby island countries such as the Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, is due to Palau’s effort to protect its marine environment.
“We’re not a small island state, we’re a large ocean state,” he said.
PICRC CEO Dr. Yimnang Golbuu, as well as a PICRC video addressed common concerns of the sanctuary. The video particularly responded to claims that the marine sanctuary is losing money for Palau from fees and export taxes, which are no longer being paid by foreign fishermen. Financial concerns such as these have led critics to say that, rather than generating a sustainable domestic fish market, the sanctuary is eliminating a reliable source of revenue.
However, the video compared the finances lost from export taxes to the finances gained from international funding given by countries to support the PNMS. According to PICRC, about $516 thousand was earned from export taxes annually prior to the implementation of the PNMS, compared to over $70 million earned from international donations since the implementation at the beginning of this year.
With the Palauan-run pelagic market still under development, the PNMS remains a topic of debate.
The two current presidential candidates, Raynold B. Oilouch and Surangel Whipps Jr., have both said that they will continue to support the PNMS should they win the upcoming election, although both have also said that the laws may have to be re-approached.
At the National Environmental Symposium briefing in September, Surangel said that the PNMS is an initiative he supports and he believes Palauans can benefit from. However, he said that the laws and policies surrounding it “need to be reviewed and updated” to give Palauan fishermen more opportunities.

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