In September 2013, current President Tommy Remengesau, Jr.—recognizing the advantages of a pristine environment in a tourism-based economy, as well as the value of restoring and preserving the culture’s ancient balance—announced his intention to protect 80 percent of Palau’s waters as a national marine sanctuary. The following year, in September 2014, the Pristine Seas expedition team traveled to Palau to estimate the diversity and abundance of marine life that would be protected by the offshore sanctuary and to test how well existing inshore protected areas had performed up to that time. Working in collaboration with the Palau International Coral Reef Center, the team produced scientific assessments showing that marine protected areas (MPAs) helped to maintain the rich biodiversity for which Palau is known. Among their findings: Total fish biomass was two times larger in MPAs than in nearby unprotected areas, and biomass of top predators was five times higher. The team’s deep-sea explorations revealed abundant fauna, including manta rays, lantern sharks, the endemic Palau nautilus, and even a tiger shark found at a depth of 515 meters.
On October 22, 2015, Palau’s congress passed legislation to protect 80 percent of the country’s waters—the largest percentage of protected marine territory of any nation in the world. The Palau National Marine Sanctuary’s 500,000-square-kilometer area is off-limits to commercial fishing and extractive activities, including mining and oil exploration. Its establishment will help to ensure the long-term sustainability of marine resources, improve local fisheries, and support increased diving tourism revenues. The remaining 20 percent of Palau’s exclusive economic zone is designated for fishing by the local community. The Pristine Seas team remains actively involved in the scientific monitoring of the sanctuary.