This past week, Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) CEO, Dr. Yimnang Golbuu, attended the “Healthy Oceans, Resilient Islands” meeting in Brussels, Belgium. The aim of this meeting was to give representatives from Small Island Developing States (SIDS), including Palau, a chance to exchange views on the challenges and concerns they are facing due to climate change. This workshop also set a platform for attendees to discuss concerns relating to biodiversity and marine conservation within the framework of the Biological Diversity of Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (BBNJ) process. Palau was represented in the meeting by Ambassador Ngedikes Olai Uludong, from the Permanent Mission of Palau to Belgium and Permanent Representative of Palau to the United Nations and Mr Raakook Singeo, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of Palau to Belgium.
Because of PICRC’s work and expertise in marine conservation, Dr. Golbuu was invited as an expert to give a presentation on PICRC’s research and how it can be applied to the BBNJ process. Dr. Golbuu presented on the design of ecologically connected networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Palau and how PICRC conducted this research. In his presentation, Dr. Golbuu discussed the importance of connectivity to MPA design and effectiveness within the Protected Areas Network (PAN).
PAN helps conserve Palau’s biodiversity through the concept of connectivity. PICRC has conducted studies to understand how currents flow in and around the MPAs to determine where fish and coral larvae will settle. MPA networks are most effective if all the MPAs in the network are connected. Having an ecologically connected network allows for healthy sites to provide new fish and coral larvae to damaged sites, therefore enabling reefs to recover faster and more effectively. This connectivity is most useful when some sites in the network are damaged from events, such as bleaching and typhoons.
This research on connectivity has shown that PAN has good coverage to allow for connectivity among the sites, but there are still gaps within the PAN network that need to be protected in order to allow all the MPAs within PAN to be fully connected.
While the work that PICRC is doing is important to Palau, it also provides valuable information that can contribute to conservation and management efforts around the world. Marine organisms do not recognize national borders and therefore, coral and fish can spawn in Palau and their larvae can settle in sites in the Federated States of Micronesia or other reefs throughout the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, connectivity needs to be addressed in the global discussion of BBNJ. Nations must work together to manage the high seas and take connectivity into consideration when discussing methods for protecting the high seas.