Palau is a group of islands in the North Pacific Ocean, southeast of the Philippines. It is the westernmost archipelago in the Caroline chain, and consists of six island groups totaling more than 300 islands. The terrain varys geologically from the high, mountainous main island of Babeldaob to low, coral islands usually fringed by large barrier reefs. The highest point is Mount Ngerchelchuus at 242 meters (794 feet).
Environmental issues include inadequate facilities for disposal of solid waste, threats to the marine ecosystem from sand and coral dredging, illegal fishing practices, and overfishing. The Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program maintains the Pacific Environment Information Network Country Profile and Virtual Environment Library on Palau. The Clearing-House Mechanism of the Convention of Biological Diversity maintains Palau’s information portal on biodiversity and the environment, Biodiversity and the Environment in Palau. The Pacific Climate Change Portal records ongoing climate change adaptation activities in Palau. Southern Illinois University partnered with The Centers for Disease Control and the Palau Ministry of Health to raise awareness of the public health aspects of climate change, resulting in the Palau climate change website – Protect Palau. The Environmental Quality Protection Board is the regulatory body charged with environmental protection. In 2013, the president of Palau proposed banning all commercial fishing in the nation’s waters.
A number of non-governmental organizations are also active in Palau. Palau Conservation Society is the premier environmental NGO. There is also the Coral Reef Research Foundation, and Palau International Coral Reef Center. The Micronesian Shark Foundation Palau studies sharks throughout Micronesia. The international NGO, The Nature Conservancy, is involved with several projects in Palau, including the Micronesia Challenge.
The official Ngaremeduu Biosphere Reserve, in the Ngaremeduu Bay Region on the west coast of the Babeldaob island, corresponds to the Ngaremeduu Conservation Area. Rock Islands Southern Lagoon is classified as a mixed natural and cultural World Heritage site, and includes the famous Rock Islands and Jellyfish Lake. Other natural protected areas, submitted to the Tentative Lists of World Heritage, include Ngebedech Terraces and Imeong Conservation Area. In 2012, the Koror state government raised the price of visitor permits for the Rock Islands and Jellyfish Lake, for the Rock Islands permit from USD 25 to $50, and the Jellyfish Lake permit from USD 35 to $100. Also in 2012, the national “Green Fee” was increased from USD 15 to $30, which is added to the Departure Tax totaling USD 50 – payable directly at the airport upon departure. Palau has made the Ethical Traveler list of top ten Ethical Destinations every year since 2011.
The Palau Shark Sanctuary initiative started in 2001. In 2009, Palau became the first country in the world to declare its territorial waters as a sanctuary for sharks, and in 2010 extended that protection to all marine mammals. It has been estimated that shark tourism accounts for 8 percent of GDP, some $18 million USD, and 14 percent of national tax revenue in Palau. A single reef shark may bring in $1.9 million USD over its lifetime. Shark Week Palau is organized by the Micronesian Shark Foundation in March. Manta Rays have also become a major attraction for snorkelers and divers visiting Palau, according to Manta ID Palau. Coral Reef Research Foundation coordinates the Palau Dugong Awareness Campaign; dugongs are a kind of Pacific manatee or “sea cow”. Dolphins Pacific operates a captive dolphin facility in Koror. Saltwater crocodiles also inhabit Palau; though, there has been no fatal attack since the 1960s. The Ramsar wetland, Lake Ngardok Nature Reserve serves as a refuge for endangered “salties”.
Palau’s latest tourist attraction seems to be the “world’s longest” zipline at Palau Adventure Park. There are two blogs, Kayaking Palau and Camping on Kayangel, that cover kayaking and camping in the Rock Islands and Kayangel atoll. Kayak tours are available from Paddling Palau, Sam’s Tours and Swing’s Palau Tours. Standup Paddle Palau promotes stand up paddle surfing in Palau. Dive operators include Fish ‘n Fins, Neco Marine, and Palau Dive Adventures. In 1998 an expatriate Israeli couple bought Fish ‘n Fins upon retirement of native scuba legend, Francis Toribiong, and now operate Ocean Hunter liveaboard boats too. Worldwide Dive and Sail’s Siren Fleet also operate luxury liveaboard boats in Palau waters fulltime, such as their S/Y Palau Siren.
There is an archaeological record of cave burials in Palau showing a pygmy population, from at least 3,000, and perhaps as long as 4,500 years ago, until about 900 years ago. In fact, the pygmy people alive today in nearby Philippines, the Aeta people, are considered pre-Austronesian. The Palauan language itself is an outlier among Austronesian languages. The first Englishman, Henry Wilson, captain of the East India Company packet “Antelope”, was shipwrecked off Ulong Island in the 18th century. In the 19th century, the Pope in Rome awarded the islands to Spain as part of the Spanish East Indies, administered from the Philippines. At the end of the 19th century, following the Spanish-American War, Spain sold the islands to Germany. At the outset of WWI, German Pacific territories were seized by Japan, under the terms of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. Following WWI, the islands were awarded to Japan by the League of Nations. During WWII, the United States took over the islands following the Battle of Peleliu in 1944. After WWII, the United Nations granted administration to the U.S. as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
In 1979, because of language and cultural differences, Palauans voted against joining the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands or the Marianas. Between 1979 and 1994, a period of violent civil unrest ensued, until Palau voted to freely associate with the U.S. Today, this Compact of Free Association allows Palau to be listed among countries without armed forces.
Tourism, primarily diving tourism, now accounts for over 50 percent of Palau’s GDP. The official Palau Visitors Authority presents a definitive source of information. Cultural monuments include Tet el Bad Stone Coffin, added to the Tentative Lists of World Heritage. Belau National Museum is the oldest museum in Micronesia. The private Etpison Museum serves as a hub for cultural and environmental projects. Interesting places to stay include Carp Island Resort, Dolphin Bay Resort, Palau Plantation Resort and their Ngellil Island Resort. Palau Airways connects Koror with Taiwan and Hong Kong. In 2011, Japan’s Official Development Assistance supplied Koror’s international Airai Airport with the first grid-connected solar power system in the country.
- The growing impact of tourism in Palau by L Hoos, 2013
- The price of protecting paradise in Palau by D Whitley, 2012
- Socio-economic value and community benefits from shark-diving tourism in Palau: A sustainable use of reef shark populations by GMS Vianna, MG Meekan, DJ Pannell & SP Marsh, 2011
- The Palau Guide: A guide to yachting and tourism in Palau by R Abernethy & H Abernethy, 2010
- Wanted Dead Or Alive? The Relative Value Of Reef Sharks As A Fishery And An Ecotourism Asset In Palau by GMS Vianna, MG Meekan, D Pannell & S Marsh, 2010
- Marine environments of Palau by PL Colin, 2009
- The value of dive-tourism and the impacts of coral bleaching on diving in Palau by T Graham & N Idechong, 2001
- Asia in the Pacific: Migrant Labor and Tourism in the Republic of Palau by T Wesley-Smith, 2000
- Niche or Mass Market?: The Regional Context of Tourism in Palau by L Carlile, 2000
- An Application of Locality Theory to the Study of a Pacific Island State: Tourism in Palau by LM Roberts, 1999
- An Analysis of Tourism Activities in Palau by H Khalegi, 1996
- Ecotourism in Palau: The Potential for Homestays and Ecotours on Babeldaob Island by TL Harding, 1996
- Kayaking paradise: developing kayaking as a tourism activity in the Republic of Palau by LM King, 1996
- Palau Forest Plan and Ecotourism Inventory by F Bell, 1994
- Palau, Belau: Your Future in Tourism by I Oelrichs, 1993
- Tourism in Palau: Processes for Heritage Enhancement by B Krause, 1990
- The Economic Impact of International Tourism on the National Economy of the Republic of Palau by JE Fletcher, 1986
- The Potential for Tourism and Resort Development in Palau: A Socio-economic-ecological Impact Study by DC Warner, JA Marsh & BG Karolle, 1979