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Council of Chiefs Endorse the Development and Application of Cultural Protocols for Offshore Research Expeditions

A project to develop cultural protocols and the application of traditional knowledge and best practices in offshore scientific expeditions was given the support of Palau’s Council of Chiefs.  The Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS) legislation was enacted into law on October 28, 2015.  Also key to this ambitious national undertaking was the fact that it was grounded in the traditional designation of a Bul in a concurrent ceremony led by High Chiefs Ibedul Yutaka Gibbons and Reklai Raphael B. Ngirmang.  The Bul signified the support of traditional leaders and paved the way for the expansion and application of traditional knowledge and protocols across Palau’s vast offshore and deep pelagic waters.

Referred to in Palauan as Euotelel a Klingil a Debel Belau, the PNMS is one of the world’s largest marine protected areas, closing 80% of Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ; over 475,000 km2) to all forms of extractive activity. Stretching from 24 nautical miles offshore to the edge of the EEZ, the PNMS protects unique deep-water geological features and a multitude of known species as well as biodiversity that is yet to be discovered.

Stemming from the 7th Our Ocean Conference hosted in Palau in 2022, the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration committed to supporting the country’s efforts to survey the EEZ, leading to a unique partnership with the Ocean Exploration Trust and their research vessel, E/V Nautilus.  Through this collaboration, the E/V Nautilus will be conducting an unprecedented offshore scientific research expedition in October with local researchers and educators onboard.

The parallel project endorsed by the Council of Chiefs not only advances traditional knowledge in tandem with scientific understanding, it will also ensure that best practices respecting and honoring our traditional values are followed and instilled to all voyagers through cultural liaisons who will also be onboard during the expeditions.

Leading up to the offshore scientific expedition in October, the Bureau of Historical and Cultural Preservation, OneReef and the Palau International Coral Reef Center will collaborate and work closely with the community to develop the cultural protocols and appropriate application of traditional knowledge and best practices toward the expedition.