Providing management & consulting services to the marine, diving and tourism industries since 2003.

A huge marine reserve in the Pacific will protect rich tourists rather than fish

A huge marine reserve in the Pacific will protect rich tourists rather than fish

The small Pacific archipelago of Palau has a poaching problem. When I went there in 2016 for instance, four Vietnamese crews were held for nearly two months after their timber-hulled “blue boats” were apprehended in local waters. They were fishing for tuna, but sharks were also found on board as well as sea cucumber – an expensive delicacy on the Chinese market.

The Palauan authorities burned three of their boats at sea, while the crews were escorted on the remaining vessel to Palau’s maritime boundary. Whether they made it over the horizon seemed of little concern to the government. Such fishermen are often trafficked as slaves and while they were held they had no communication with loved ones at home. As one humanitarian NGO worker told me: “They’re victims and they need to be dealt with as victims. Most have just signed up to catch fish. They don’t know where they’re going. They don’t know how to navigate. They have no options.”

Nonetheless, this method of repatriating Vietnamese crews is standard practice. Since 2014, numerous crews have had their boats sunk and been repatriated in this way.

Palau is a sovereign state with a UN vote, albeit one with just 18,000 residents. In 2015 the country designated 80% of its territorial waters – an area roughly the size of Spain – as a National Marine Sanctuary. In the “Bul”, as the sanctuary is known locally, commercial fishing is off limits.

The reserve has attracted many of the world’s largest conservation and development NGOs. It has received more than US$90m in pledges, mostly from corporate donors, charitable trusts and government agencies in Australia, Japan and the US.

Coral reefs aren’t protected

Yet the scientific rationale behind the sanctuary is questionable. Consider Palau’s coral reefs, which are among the most biodiverse places in the entire ocean and remain the ultimate symbol of the region’s pristine waters. They are the key lure for “high-end” sports-fishers, divers and yachters to the islands and, thanks to the sanctuary, many more are expected.

Making friends in Palau’s ‘blue corner’ dive site. Tetsuji Sakakibara, CC BY-SA

The reefs feature heavily in promotional materials and strategic plans for the marine reserve. Yet the sanctuary doesn’t actually begin until 12 nautical miles from the coast – too far from shore for any coral reefs. Access to the reefs is regulated through various other pieces of legislation but, unlike the sanctuary, those other regulations were not designed to promote tourism.

Palau’s conservation efforts are part of a vision to become a tourist destination for the super-rich. New laws and tax incentives mean only five-star hotels will get planning approval in future while the country’s famous Rock Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site, will likely prove out of bounds to anyone without a private yacht. A significant airport expansion plan, managed by the Japanese, will likely see the overall number of tourists increase substantially.

The crew of a Vietnamese ‘blue boat’. Sarah Oakes, Author provided

This begs the question of what the sanctuary is for. If it is in place to protect the reef, then it isn’t doing a very good job as it doesn’t cover the right area. If it is there to protect the offshore environment, then instead of using it to boost tourism, Palau should also limit the numbers of international arrivals who largely go sport fishing further offshore.

Protecting fish and sovereignty too?

Out to sea, Palau is planning to develop the often uninhabited outcrop of Helen Reef, 350 miles south of Palau’s main islands, ostensibly for monitoring and surveillance. But in addition to a dock, fuel depot and rangers station, Palau’s project leaders say potential expansion could include tourist development, including a dive resort complex. Japanese NGOs, the Nippon Foundation and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation have also contributed to Palau’s coastguard, and the latter recently donated a new 40-metre patrol vessel, the PSS Kedam and has previously helped Palau survey the area.

Waters surrounding Helen Reef are contested with neighbouring Indonesia. The geopolitical implications of this are still unclear, though it is likely that Japan has a significant interest in the sanctuary acting as a buffer to Chinese expansion in the region. Palau’s president, meanwhile, has stated that the marine sanctuary is “not just a conservation policy; it is also a national security policy”.

Palau lies in between Indonesia, the Philippines, and Micronesia. TUBS / wiki, CC BY-SA

Bearing in mind this latter motivation, the president has sponsored a plan to adopt similar conservation enclosures around at least 30% of the world’s oceans. This position is no longer radical – it’s the mainstream. Since 2006, seven Pacific island nations have designated huge swathes of their oceans as protected areas. Michelle Grady, from the Pew Charitable Trust, recently suggested the 30% target “had the status of expert advice, much like the science underpinning the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change”.

But such bold targets can serve to promote heavy-handed, perhaps even violent conservation. But unless consumption is reined in at home, and the drivers of poverty and slavery are tackled out to sea, few will benefit except the super-rich in search of paradise.

Original author: Howson
Original author: Admin



Rate this blog entry:
Caribbean shark fisheries experts work towards reg...
NOAA and partners assess coral reef damage in Flor...


15 March 2017
I can just see Cousteau the father of diving turning in the grave. After the disastrous management of the Calypso by the late captain's last wife, now the last bastion of Cousteau's legacy Aqualung ha...
10600 Hits
23 February 2017
After the 20th shark attack off Reunion Island since 2011 occurred earlier this week, the world’s greatest surfer made a comment that “there needs to be a serious cull on Reunion and it should happen...
5849 Hits
23 May 2017
A Red Sea diving liveaboard had to be evacuated on Saturday, 13 May after what appeared to be a galley fire broke out. According to one of the 23 guests, who were left with few possessions between th...
3128 Hits
19 May 2017
PADI CEO Releases Statement on New Owners Story brought to you by DIVEMAGAZINE The Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) was sold in March this year to a private consortium known only a...
2355 Hits
19 May 2017
We take a look at the best diving movies of all time, from thrilling underwater epics to Hollywood blockbusters featuring incredible subaquatic scenes. The underwater realm struggles t...
2101 Hits
12 April 2017
March 15, 2017 at 9:19 PM Researchers have created a new model for predicting decompression sickness after deep-sea dives that not only estimates the risk, but how severe the symptoms are likely to b...
1840 Hits