Designing an Ecologically Connected Network of Protected Areas in Palau and Micronesia
Of the 33 marine protected areas in Palau, only seven are part of the Palau Protected Areas Network designed to give greater protection to western Pacific marine ecosystems. The country’s leaders have signaled their willingness to incorporate the other 26 marine protected areas into the network and create new reserves that are ecologically connected, allowing for migration of species within and between protected areas and for resilience against human-induced and natural environmental changes.
Yimnang Golbuu’s Pew Fellows project will explore the conditions of Palau’s marine protected areas. He will first use oceanographic models to investigate the distribution of corals and fish and how they move among the existing protected areas. If the results show that the existing areas are not ecologically connected, he will identify sites to fill in those gaps. Golbuu will then conduct ecological surveys in order to observe which coral and fish species are currently residing within or outside of existing protected areas. He will use this information to identify more sites that ensure protection to a vast representation of Palau's marine biodiversity. He will compile all the evidence gained from this research and convene several stakeholder workshops to discuss the information, receive feedback, and create an optimal design for Palau's Protected Areas Network. The design will maximize biodiversity and connectivity and therefore support ecosystem resilience to both local (e.g., increasing demand for fish from a growing tourism industry) and global (e.g., climate change) disturbances. By sharing the results throughout Micronesia, he will then potentially extend the process to other islands.