The small but unique country of Palau, an island group in the Pacific, is known for its unique landscapes, immaculate waters, and rich cultural heritage. The archipelago is made up of more than 340 lush green islands jutting out from the glimmering ocean, only nine of which are inhabited. The archipelago, which is 400 miles north of Papua New Guinea, 550 miles east of the Philippines, and 800 miles southwest of Guam, is encircled by the huge Pacific Ocean on all sides.
There are 1,300 different species of fish and over 500 different varieties of coral in the waters around Palau. Palau is regarded as one of the best diving locations in the world because of its extraordinary natural beauty and biodiversity. 90,000 tourists came to Palau in 2019 ,that is five times the population of the islands. The primary source of income for the nation is tourism, and provides vital jobs for local people. Tourism accounts for almost half of Palau’s GDP.
Despite its small size, Palau is brimming with audacious goals in order to address its environmental challenges. The Palauan people have traditionally practiced environmental stewardship because they understand how important healthy reefs, rainforests, and beaches are to the future of their nation.
Vulnerability to Climate Change
Palau is a remote island country that is particularly susceptible to the effects of climate change. Beaches, and infrastructure are under danger of being destroyed due to rising sea levels and intensifying tropical cyclones. The marine life that attracts tourists is endangered by coral bleaching and corrosive seas. Food insecurity is predicted to result from supply chain disruptions brought on by climate change.
Carbon footprint of tourism
The use of fossil fuels in the tourism industry results in significant emissions that worsen the climate catastrophe. Think about the environmental impact of visiting Palau. It usually takes thousands of miles of air travel to reach the far-off islands. Once in Palau, visitors produce CO2 by taking boat rides, cranking up the air conditioning, consuming cuisine from abroad, and taking part in other activities.
Reliance on imported food
Using imported food exclusively for their guest meals, Palau’s hotels and restaurants depend on imports from elsewhere. 85–90% of the nation’s food is imported. Food and beverage imports result in carbon emissions and take money out of the local economy. Additionally, imported goods may have extra packaging and processing, which adds to waste management issues and health issues.
A Conservation Leader
Palau is on the path to discourage mass tourism and promote destination sustainability, with innovative policies and initiatives. An example of such innovative measures is the “Palau Pledge,” which is the world’s first mandatory visitor eco-pledge. Upon entry, all tourists are required to sign a pledge promising to act in an environmentally conscious and overall sustainable manner during their travels in order to protect the islands for future generations to come. Tourists risk a fine if they’re found engaging in activities like collecting marine life souvenirs, feeding fish or sharks, touching, or stepping on coral, littering and disrespecting local culture.
The Responsible Tourism Education Act was passed in 2018 to ensure compliance with environmental responsibility. Besides endorsing the Palau Responsible Tourism Framework, the act requires tourism businesses to provide visitors with environmental education, conservation awareness and sustainable options, such as reusable alternatives to disposable plastic cups, straws, and containers. In 2018 a reef-toxic sunscreen ban was implemented, that restricts the manufacturing and import of sunscreen containing toxic chemicals that lead to coral bleaching.
Initiatives that increase local food sourcing reduce the country’s carbon footprint and set the destination up for food security success in the event of natural or economic disasters. This section of the initiative is imperative to showcasing the islands’ culinary heritage and building up the local income opportunities of Palau fishers and farmers. This will reduce Palau’s dependence on imported foods and celebrate the island’s heritage by incorporating local ingredients into the menus of hotels and restaurants. This will also optimize resource use by encouraging local producers to adopt sustainable agricultural practices and encourage local food production. Palauan women account for the majority involved in the production activities such as farming taro and vegetables, crab harvesting, fishing, and producing honey and jams. Emphasis will be given to women producers to the tourism value chain.
While carbon emissions from things like transportation and outdoor activities are sometimes unavoidable, Palau has implemented an online carbon management platform for its visitors, in order to compensate for this carbon emissions. O’lau Palau is an online platform that will enable tourists to calculate the carbon footprint of their trip to Palau, including flights, lodging, dining, excursions, and ground transport. Visitors will offset their carbon footprint by contributing to conservation projects. These projects will reduce emissions and boost climate resilience by protecting and restoring coastal ecosystems that act as blue carbon sinks and natural storm barriers.
Palau also joined the High-Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy (Ocean Panel) in 2020 along with 13 other nations. This panel is committed to sustainably manage 100% of the national waters by 2025. As part of their initiative the world’s sixth largest marine sanctuary was established to protect 80% of its maritime territory,thereby restricting fishing, or other uses such as drilling for oil in a tuna dense area of the ocean. This initiative also established the world’s first shark sanctuary in order to protect the sharks at risk of extinction by banning shark fishing.