Alii! Welcome to the Nicholas School student blog for the Palau travel course. Over the next two weeks, students from the Coastal Environmental Management program will be offering their reflections and perspectives on the social and cultural context of marine conservation in Palau.
Our first day in Palau started with a visit to the Belau National Museum in the main city of Koror. The museum offered exhibits about traditional Palauan culture, a comprehensive historical timeline of important social and political events, and information about the influence of various colonial powers on Palau’s environment, belief system, and social structure. The exhibits focusing on Palau’s colonial relationships illustrated the vast changes in lifestyle and ambitions brought forth by the switch from traditional subsistence livelihoods to an international trade-based economy (Ueki and Clayton 1999).
After a traditional Palauan lunch of tuna, snapper and taro, the class met with former Palauan Senator SantyAsanuma, who shared how he worked to ensure community participation in marine management plans, including the large scale Protected Area Network legislation. Senator Asanuma also emphasized the unique relationship between traditional and formal government, as stated in the preamble of the Palauan Constitution, and the important role traditional chiefs play in mediating political crises. However, his fear that the shifting attitudes of younger generations towards more consumer-oriented cultural norms will limit the transmission and influence of traditional knowledge reflects a generational tension that pervades a variety of issues in Palau. Our upcoming trip to Ngarchelong state, which will involve speaking with community leaders about traditional knowledge of fishing, navigation, and lunar cycles, should provide additional insight about how traditional knowledge is viewed by different social groups and used in current marine management efforts.
In the evening, Ron Leidich of Planet Blue Sea Kayak Tours spoke with the class about the opportunities and challenges associated with ecotourism in Palau. Palau’s variety of pristine terrestrial and marine habitats, historical significance as the sight of a major World War II battle, and distinctive cultural heritage offer exciting niches for ecotourism operators, and potential economic benefits for Palau’s government and citizens. However, Mr. Leidich also highlighted the possibility for political maneuvering by international tourism and development companies that partner with local elected officials on projects that do not compensate the government and landholders of Palau for the full value of the resources used. Increasing tourism and development pressure also has profound effects on the marine environment resulting from limited sewage capacity, the high demand for fresh fish by tourists, the destruction of coastal habitat for construction, and physical damage to the reef from human contact while snorkeling or scuba diving. Mr. Leidich’s photos and anecdotal evidence of reef damage from snorkelers and divers emphasize Barker and Robert’s (2004) argument that even seemingly “low impact” and non-extractive tourist activities can have significant impacts on coral reef health and composition. The class will have the opportunity to participate in an ecotourism activity when we embark on a kayaking trip tomorrow, which will help us better understand how the demand for tourism services from a variety of international markets influences both the economic structure and marine environment of Palau.
Barker, N. H. L., & Roberts, C. M. (2004).Scuba diver behaviour and the management of diving impacts on coral reefs.Biological Conservation120(4): 481–489.
Ueki, M.F. and Clayton, S.M. 1999. Eco-Consciousness in Traditional Palauan
Society. Asian Geographer 18 (1-2): 47-66.