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Status and Health of the Coral Reef Ecosystems of Palau
Sea squirts growing on a healthy coral reef in Palau (Photo: Jane Thomas, IAN Image Library)
Overall, especially when compared to other coral reefs of the world, Palau’s reefs are in pretty good shape. They showed respectable resiliency and recovery in the aftermath of the significant 1997-1998 bleaching event, whereas in some areas of the world, coral mortality was as high as 90%. Mean live coral cover across 22 monitoring sites in 2004 was 31%. More recent surveys showed continuing recovery and increased coral cover at all sites (Wilkinson 2008). Water quality is also promising in Palau, coral diseases have a low prevalence, and storms and climate change do not appear to be great threats. Major areas of concern, however, are coastal development and runoff, pollution, certain agricultural practices, and non-sustainable fishery exploitation.
Positive actions by the Palau government and its conservation partners to protect reef resources by applying ecosystem management approaches that include integrated watershed management have shown great promise for the long-term protection of coral ecosystems and associated habitats. Various governmental and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have conducted research and monitoring surveys to aid in the management of coral reefs and have put into place a variety of management tools to address issues such as recreational use, fishing pressures, and land-based sources of sedimentation and industrial and domestic pollution. Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) now cover more than 40% of Palau’s nearshore marine environments. Community-based ecosystem management holds great promise for resource protection.
In 2006, the leaders of the Micronesian governments of the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands launched the Micronesia Challenge, which is a shared commitment to “effectively conserve at least 30 percent of the nearshore marine and 20 percent of the forest resources across Micronesia by 2020.”