The Palau National Marine Sanctuary: Protecting a nation’s entire marine territory to ensure sustainable development, enhance food security, boost tourism and enrich biodiversity conservation

Keobel Sakuma
Published: 05 September 2017
Last edited: 05 October 2020
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The Palau National Marine Sanctuary (PNMS) was the first case of a country dedicating its entire marine territory to conservation, raising global attention. Traditional practices of Whole Domain Management, and the Protected Area Network (PAN) Act provided the foundation for the protection of the entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), which was proclaimed in October 2015. The major innovation is the development of a holistic sustainable development rationale: the MPA is Palau’s major effort to combat the impacts of climate change and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing.


Scale of implementation
Coral reef
Deep sea
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Open sea
Rocky reef / Rocky shore
Seamount / Ocean ridge
Ecosystem services
Food security
Local actors
Protected area governance
Traditional knowledge
World Heritage
Loss of Biodiversity
Ocean warming and acidification
Sea level rise
Storm surges
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Unsustainable harvesting incl. Overfishing
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation
Lack of food security
Sustainable development goals
SDG 2 – Zero hunger
SDG 13 – Climate action
SDG 14 – Life below water
Aichi targets
Target 6: Sustainable management of aquatic living resources
Target 10: Ecosystems vulnerable to climate change
Target 11: Protected areas
Target 18: Traditional knowledge


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  • Protecting an area of over 630,000 square kilometers from illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing, human and drug trafficking and other illegal activities with limited resources
  • Transitioning from a export-based commercial fishing industry to a truly domestic, sustainable fishing industry that benefits the people and the community.
  • Developing ecotourism opportunities that will promote and stimulate a sustainable, environmentally-friendly tourism industry that attracts high-value, environmentally-minded visitors.
  • Engaging the community to be a part of the protection and conservation of the environmental resources


Direct Beneficiaries:

  • The people of Palau
  • Tour operators
  • Visitors

Indirect Beneficiaries:

  • The entire Pacific region will benefit (spill-over effect)
  • Other countries in the process of MPA establishment may learn from Palau's successes and failures.

How do the building blocks interact?

The development of Palau National Marine Sanctuary solution was based on a traditional management model. This initial building block coupled with sound scientific evidence of the threatened marine ecosystems justified the creation of Palau's large scale marine protected area. As the PNMS took shape, the need for a sustainable method of financing was seen as a second important building block. The Pristine Paradise Environment Fee was included in the legislation to ensure Palau was not entirely dependent on outside donors to ensure the success of the PNMS solution. This fee would also ensure that there were resources available for the third and equally important building block. Although much of the fee will be allocated to surveillance and enforcement, the need to increase Palau's capacity in that field is too great to be dependent on the fee alone and thus, the importance of partnerships. Partnerships are essential for the development and implementation of a comprehensive enforcement and surveillance strategy.


The announcement of the PNMS has demonstrated, to great international attention, how protected areas not only mainstream biodiversity into the climate change sector, but also serve as a fundamental component of strategies to provide and ensure sustainable development pathways for small island states through durable and lasting partnerships. The Sanctuary is one of the world’s most ambitious ocean conservation initiatives aimed at not only protecting Palau’s marine resources, but also the world’s tuna stocks, by managing 80% of the MPA as a “no-take zone”.


Palau is a pioneer in recognizing that its economy is completely dependent on sustaining its natural resource base, and of translating this into practice. In the future, it is anticipated that new employment opportunities will be created, through ecotourism opportunities and the associated rise in the standard of living, fish stocks and reefs will rebound due to reduction of fishing, and food security will be ensured for Palau's people and visitors. More immediate impacts of the PNMS legislation passing include the protection of all marine mammals, sharks and rays in Palau's EEZ as well as a more effective means of prosecution of IUU fishing vessels due to stiffer requirements, penalties and fines in the PNMS legislation.

Contributed by

Keobel Sakuma Palau National Marine Sanctuary

Other contributors

Palau National Marine Sanctuary