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Pristine Paradise. Palau, A Culture of Conservation

by Susan Kloulechad, Branding and Communications Representative II, Palau Visitors Authority

Pristine Paradise. Stop there and imagine what it really means, and how beautiful it might look. Then pamper your eyes on speckles of emerald green mushrooms floating on a seemingly infinite cobalt sea. Then say “Palau” out loud, and see just how many people know that this island country exists. Better yet, say “Pristine Paradise. Palau”, and wonder what makes it so special. I’ll tell you the secret – it’s the people and their culture.

Located in the western Pacific Ocean in Micronesia’s western Caroline Islands, the Republic of Palau has more than 500 islands, from the smallest limestone rock, to the second largest landmass in Micronesia, Babeldaob, which is rich in forests, waterfalls, mangroves and sunburnt savannahs. Only seven degrees north of the equator, the annual mean temperature – 82 °F (28 °C), While Palau receives 150 inches (3,800 mm) of annual rainfall, more frequently July – October, though there is still much sunshine.

The Pristine Paradise. Palau experience promises unspoiled beauty and a people shaped by pristine seas and nature, which are conserved by culture. Of recent years, echoes of a traditional system in which the chiefs would issue restrictions on harvesting from land or sea have brought to life unique conservation efforts which have been implemented by other destinations.

Sustainable Initiatives

With increased awareness about Palau, visitor growth has also increased. From 2003, with only 63,328 visitor arrivals, to 2014, which rocketed to 140,784 arrivals, Palau is expecting to top the 175,000 mark for 2015. While originally Palau was only serviced by Continental Airlines and a few charter flights from Asia, scheduled flights from Guam, Manila and Japan have increased, and so has the demand for charter flights from Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo-Narita, Hong Kong, and Macao. Palau is also frequently visited by freight, military and cruise ships, and research/conservation vessels. Within Palau, there are no railways or public transportation, only taxis, domestic airlines, and private boats and buses.

Palau’s accommodation capacity ranges from Resorts, Hotels, Motels, Liveaboards, Cottages and Bungalows. 5o hotel properties provide a room inventory of nearly 1,700 rooms and 900 additional rooms from 3 hotel developments are in construction. In addition, there are a variety of restaurants serving cuisines from local, western, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Korean and Filipino flavors.

While Palau has been renowned as a diving destination, and new tourist products such as kayaking, ziplines, bird watching, sportfishing, weddings, and low-scale meetings have been developed, there have been efforts by the Palau Visitors Authority (PVA) to diversify tourism products and bases. Most tour operators and hotels have been centered in Koror. PVA is now working with the 16 states of Palau to help them to develop their cultural and natural resources for low-impact tourism. In addition, PVA is also encouraging states to work together in order to create tourism products which encompass different states.

Kayaking in the Rock Islands. Photo: David Kirland

Kayaking in the Rock Islands. Photo: David Kirland

While these projects are currently being presented to the different states through state visitations, there is a potential for a variety of unique tours. These include a taro festival and tours of different taro patches including the legends of the demi-god that created them, nature hikes through traditional stone paths, history and relations between different states, Melekeok as a capitol city in past and present, Palau’s way of life through a total eco-system (ridge to reef), and island-wide marathons or triathlons.

While these projects are still beginning, two initiatives have been underway for many years. The Olechotel Belau Fair is an annual event that has been featuring traditional games, local food and handicraft sales, live entertainment, and dance performances for many years. While it is usually held in Koror, this year it was held in Melekeok State on Babeldaob Island. PVA also spearheaded twice-monthly Night Markets in Koror a few years back to allow local food and handicraft vendors to sell their merchandise or special recipes to tourists. Over the years, the popularity and vendor sales have both increased, as has the variety of performances from Palauans and ethnic community groups in Palau. Events like this bring the community and tourists together to share a slice of life in Palau and spread the ripple effect of tourism for the benefit of the community.

Conservation

When we say Pristine Paradise. Palau, we speak from our leadership down to the grassroots conservation efforts which continue to save what is the best of Palau for the well-being of the people and the enjoyment of the visitors.

  • On November 5th, 2005, Palau took the lead on a regional environmental initiative called the Micronesia challenge, to conserve 30% of near-shore coastal waters and 20% of forest land by 2020. Together, this combined region represents nearly 5% of the marine area of the Pacific Ocean and 7% of its coastline.
  • September 25th, 2009, Palau became the world’s first national shark sanctuary, ending all commercial shark fishing in Palau’s waters and giving a sanctuary for 17 species of sharks in 237,000 square miles of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), an ocean the size of France. The Pacific islands of the Maldives, Tokelau, Guam, Marshall Islands, and Kiribati have also taken similar measures, which were also brought to life in the Americas, Africa, Europe and Taiwan.
  • In 2012, Palau received the Future Policy Award from World Future Council, because “Palau is a global leader in protecting marine ecosystems”.
  • Palau has proposed to close 80% of its EEZ waters to be a Marine Sanctuary.
  • Palau’s President Tommy E. Remengesau was recognized in 2014 by UNEP as a Champion of the Earth for Policy Leadership.

UNESCO World Heritage List

Rock Islands Southern Lagoon. Photo: David Kirkland

Rock Islands Southern Lagoon. Photo: David Kirkland

Palau is renowned for the famous mushroom-shaped gems known as the Rock Islands and Jellyfish Lake. This Rock Islands Southern Lagoon was inscribed in 2012 as a mixed cultural and nature site in the UNESCO World Heritage List. There is also the highest concentration of marine lakes anywhere. These are isolated bodies of seawater that have been separated from the ocean by land barriers that sustain high endemism of biodiversity which continue to yield new discoveries of species. The most intriguing of these marine lakes is Jellyfish Lake, where a species of non-stinging golden mastigius jellyfish has evolved. Jellyfish Lake has recently appeared on Good Morning America and an episode of AWE’s (A Wealth of Entertainment) Private Islands.

Jellyfish Lake. Photo: David Kirkland

Jellyfish Lake. Photo: David Kirkland

Diving

Where divers can have it all, more manta rays and shipwrecks than other island destinations, and an incredible 400 species of reef-building hard corals and 150 species of soft corals, gorgonians, and sea pens, Palau also has at least 1,450 species of reef fish. There are over 60 dive sites, as well as 60 sunken ships and aircraft, reminders of the titanic battle fought here during World War II.

Photo: Hiroshi Akino

Photo: Hiroshi Akino

Palau has been known as one of the best diving destinations, with this international recognition:

  • At Japan’s Marine Diving Fair in 2015, Palau received 1st prize for Best Diving Area, Overseas, and 2nd prize for underwater wonderland in the Dreaming Area category.
  • Scuba Diving Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Awards recently named Palau several times in various categories in their Top 100.
  • Alan Friedlander, Chief Scientist of Pristine Seas commented in National Geographic’s Palau: Return to Paradise, “Once in a lifetime experience – after 8000 hours underwater I thought I’d seen it all but seeing an enormous school of bumphead parrotfish spawning today was a first time for me.”

Nature

Palau above water is equally as stunning as 75% is covered in native forest and mangrove. The forests are the most species-diverse in Micronesia with 1,400 species of plants, with an estimated 194 endemic plant species, including 23 endemic orchids. At least 46 species of reptiles and amphibians can be found, and 12 of which are endemic. Also living in these islands are 162 recorded species of birds, including 12 endemic. Some of the rarest birds to see are the Palau Ground Dove (omekrengukl) and the Giant White-eye, only found in certain locations in the Rock Islands, and the Palau Megapode (bekai), now an endangered species.

Culture

A bai. Photo: David Kirkland

A bai. Photo: David Kirkland

Of significant cultural importance, Palau’s Bai (men’s traditional meeting house), in ancient times, were found in every village. In fact, at the turn of the century, there were more than 100 bai in existence. The bai functioned as a meeting house for the governing elders where they were assigned seats along the walls, according to rank and title. The bai is still used in Palau’s modern society during village gatherings, a coronation of a new chief, or during funerals of clan members.

Inside a bai. Photo: David Kirland

Inside a bai. Photo: David Kirland

Found along a hillside savannah are mysterious stone monoliths, which speak of times long past. Legend reveals them to be the foundation of an enormous bai that was never completed. Sites of cultural significance are found in every state in Palau, from stone paths to a fabled fountain of youth.

Badrulchau Stone Monoliths. Photo: David Kirkland

Badrulchau Stone Monoliths. Photo: David Kirkland

For More Information, Contact:

Palau Visitors Authority

P.O. Box 256, Koror, Republic of Palau 96940

Tel: + 680 488 1930/2793

Fax: + 680 488-1453

Web site: www.visit-palau.com

Email: pva@visit-palau.co

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