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January 1, 2020: PNMS Act enters into full force with the start of a new decade

January 1, 2020 is a significant date for Palauans as it marks the moment when the Palau National  Marine Sanctuary goes into full effect. More specifically, this is the full closure of 80% (~500,000 km2) of  Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to all forms of extractive activities, including all types of fishing.  Translated into Palauan as Euotelel a Klingil a Debel Belau, the PNMS is the second largest marine  protected area per capita in the world. This newly implemented no-take zone aims to improve Palau’s  marine biodiversity, nurture stronger pelagic fisheries for the people of Palau and attract responsible  tourism to the country. For instance, in marine conservation, the sanctuary will offer better protection  to the nearly 800 different species of animals, nine of which are endangered. 

As islanders, the connection to the ocean, both in receiving and in giving, has fostered a reciprocal  relationship between Palauans and the ocean. As Palauans benefit from the ocean’s many gifts, such as  a source of food and an enabler of transportation, communication and economy, Palauans in return must reciprocate. They have done so through various conservation measures, including species, gear,  seasonal and spatial restrictions to help protect the ocean’s health, marine life and ecosystem function.  

In this custom of reciprocity, the PNMS Act is just another way for Palauans to ‘return the favor’ to the  ocean. According to Dr. Yimnang Golbuu, Chief Executive Officer of the Palau International Coral Reef  Center (PICRC), which has taken on the role of administrator of the PNMS, “The PNMS is a sanctuary  established for the people of Palau, much in the same way our traditional leaders implemented bul when resources were scarce. We could say that the PNMS is a contemporary form of bul that is looking  ahead to secure a future for our people.”