The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has signed a memorandum of understanding with Palau’s International Coral Reef Center on marine protected areas, including the establishment of a sister sanctuary arrangement between Puipuiga lautele o le Gataifale o Amerika Samoa, the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa, and the Euotelel a Klingil a Debel Belau, the Palau National Marine Sanctuary.
NOAA said the agreement will make it easier for ecosystem managers and scientists in the U.S. Pacific region and Palau to share knowledge and experience to better manage natural resources and wildlife throughout the region and benefit the communities that depend on them.
“This agreement will support bold actions to strengthen the conservation, management, and stewardship of Marine Protected Areas across the Pacific Islands Region that intersect with many of NOAA’s critical mission areas, for the benefit of local communities, regional interests, and the nation,” said retired Navy Rear Adm. Tim Gallaudet, Ph.D., assistant secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and deputy NOAA administrator. “Our Indo-Pacific partnerships are a top agency priority, and this agreement honors our shared history with the Republic of Palau.”
According to NOAA, the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa covers six protected areas, including 13,581 square miles of nearshore coral reef and offshore open ocean waters across the Samoan Archipelago. Rose Atoll Marine National Monument, located within the American Samoa sanctuary, hosts the largest population of nesting turtles in American Samoa and offers a refuge for humpback whales, reef sharks, and seabirds. Larger than the state of California, the 193,000 square mile sanctuary in Palau protects 80 percent of the nation’s maritime territory and hosts a thriving coral community.
NOAA said the marine environments around these two large-scale marine sanctuaries are ecologically similar, and resource managers at both locations face many of the same challenges in protecting ocean resources, and the indigenous cultures that depend on them.
“We celebrate this important collaboration between NOAA and the Palau International Coral Reef Center in the advancement of marine protected areas that are critical to island cultures and people’s livelihood,” said Douglas W. Domenech, assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of the Interior's Insular and International Affairs. “This agreement exemplifies the Trump Administration’s ongoing support for the Pacific Islands and further strengthens the relationship between the United States and Palau.”
Officials said the new partnership is expected to include collaboration with the national marine sanctuaries in Hawai’i.
Domenech and Gallaudet were in Palau in September 2019, where they co-chaired the 42nd annual U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meeting. While in Palau, they also visited the Palau International Coral Reef Center and the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, which is when the idea first began to establish this partnership between the United States and Palau.
Palau, one of three freely associated states in a special relationship with the United States under a Compact of Free Association, was the first country in the world to announce a shark sanctuary in 2009. In 2015, Palau President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. further extended protections by signing a law that designated 80 percent of Palau’s exclusive economic zone, approximately 193,000 square miles, to be a national marine sanctuary, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
Palau is also part of the Micronesia Challenge wherein the leaders of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau, and the U.S. territories of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have committed to effectively conserve at least 30 percent of the near-shore marine resources and 20 percent of the terrestrial resources across Micronesia. Both American Samoa and Palau are members of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force where all U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands and stateside jurisdictions collaborate to protect coral reefs.