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The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Digital Traveler ~ Asia Pacific eNewsletter, February 2006

www.ecotourism.org

Palau: A Future in Ecotourism?


By Annie Vanderwyk

To discuss the development of ecotourism as a viable option for sustainable development in developing
countries, it is important to first understand the basic tenets of ecotourism as opposed to the universal
traits of mass tourism. As a general guide, The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) subscribes to the
following definition of ecotourism: "responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment
and improves the well-being of local people"(www.ecotourism.org).

In contrast, the history of mass tourism has been firmly positioned within the recreation industry and
tailored to the needs of the visitor with little regard for host community cultural conservation beyond the
obligatory cultural performances and purchasable artifacts. However, little work has been done to explore
the beliefs and actions embedded in the consciousness of expatriate members and permanent residents of
local communities that directly affect the day to day sustainability of some of the most fragile and
beautiful environments on earth.

The tiny Republic of Palau offers much that fits the definition of real
ecotourism. Palau is a magnificent tropical island group situated near the
Federated States of Micronesia. Most visitors to Palau arrive on Continental
Micronesia, by way of daily regular flights from Guam. Palau enjoys a
modest tourism industry with 94,894 international visitors in 2004. Palau’s
total population of only 20,303 includes a high number of expatriates, many
tied to government advisory positions and tourist services industries.

In 2005, I visited Palau to attend a wedding. The young Australian bride


and Swiss groom had worked as tour operators in Palau for four years. They
managed to weave an environmental attitude, motivated by a primary love
of Palau and its diverse environments into a wedding never to forget.
During my two week stay, I experienced a total immersion into the ecological beauty and cultural
wonders of Palau.

The colorful history of Palau is vibrantly displayed in the faces of the


local population, architecture, monuments, museums and bustling street
life. This long history is reflected in what is to be found underwater with
a seascape of war time ship and submarine wrecks to explore snorkeling
and diving. The marine life is abundant and the colors of the land and
sea crisp and vital. Within this expatriate population that I found a level
of environmental and cultural respect toward local environment and
Palauan culture, reflecting an innate understanding of the tenets and
potential of ecotourism in this country.

The Palauan government Marine Protection Act (1994) has served the
marine environment well to date, preserving a pristine environment
supporting a healthy coral and diverse marine population. The Marine
Protection Act is the basis for much of the management measures for the
inshore fisheries at the national level. It places restrictions on fishing gear,
fishing seasons, and exports of certain threatened fish and shellfish. A strict
policing of marine park fees also protects the fragile marine environments
surrounding Palau.

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The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), Digital Traveler ~ Asia Pacific eNewsletter, February 2006
www.ecotourism.org

For Palau the future is complex, even though the government through the leadership of President Tommy
Esang Remengesau, Jr. is dedicated to the preservation of their Islands and waters and the economic
sustainability of Palau. Ecotourism could reveal itself as a viable economic factor in a fragile economic
climate for the burgeoning Republic of Palau.

Photo Credits: Thomas & Natalia Baechtold (www.RawPerspective.com)