Nature and Biodiversity

This country is making tourists promise not to harm the environment

An aerial view of islands in Palau in this undated photo. Palau, a nation of sparsely populated Pacific islands surrounded by turquoise waters teeming with fish and giant clams, is so obscure most people must scour a map to find it. But with a crop of high-end resorts coming up, the islands may soon become a luxury tourist hotspot. To match Reuters Life! PALAU-TRAVEL/  REUTERS/Jackson Henry  (PALAU SOCIETY TRAVEL) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS

Palau is making tourists sign a conservation pledge in order to make tourism to the island sustainable. Image: REUTERS/Jackson Henry

Desirée Kaplan
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The tourism industry is booming around the world but with the increased tourism comes a new set of concerns. Many destinations have found the sudden influx of attention from tourists difficult to cope with. One such destination is Palau, an archipelago that spans across 200 natural limestone and volcanic islands. Located in the Pacific between Japan and Australia, these little islands offer pristine beaches and forests.

This country has seen tourist numbers skyrocket and now receives over 160,000 visitors every year. That may not sound like a lot of people compared to other tourist destinations, but it’s eight times the islands’ 20,000 residents. As the 13th smallest country in the world, the impact of tourism is felt on every level.

In response to the environmental damaged caused by the increased visitors, the country has created the world’s first conservation pledge. This pledge will be stamped into every visitor’s passport and must be signed before entry into the country is granted.

Image: Green Matters

The pledge reads, “Children of Palau, I take this pledge as your guest, to preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home. I vow to tread lightly, act kindly and explore mindfully. I shall not take what is not given. I shall not harm what does not harm me. The only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away.”

Palau is the first country to change its immigration policy to incorporate a pledge like this as legislation to protect its natural environment. The pledge was based on the Palauan tradition of BUL, a moratorium created by Palau’s leaders that puts a stop to overconsumption or destruction of natural resources.

Laura Clarke, a co-founder of the Palau Legacy Project, describes the pledge as something that helps “guests understand the vital role they play in protecting Palau for the next generation. Most visitors are unaware of the serious impact their actions have or even what they can do to help. The Palau Legacy Project team came together to help communicate these important messages in a way that all guests would understand.”

While the initiative was born out of a need to minimize environmental damage caused by tourists, locals have also take the pledge. Palauan children will be given a new curriculum to help instill environmental awareness and stewardship values. Local adults will have access to environmental responsibility programs. The tourism sector, in particular, will be the driving force to help visitors learn how to experience the area responsibly. As a sign of solidarity, people who want to support eco-tourism can sign the pledge online without having to travel to the country.

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The authorities hope that this policy will help preserve the country’s environment and draw attention to the ecological concerns linked to tourism. To enforce the new law, violators will be subject to fines of up to 1 million USD. The President of Palau, Tommy E. Remengesau Jr, was one of the driving forces behind this pledge and said, “Human impact on our earth’s environment is one of the biggest challenges facing our world today. As a small country we feel the impact of these actions acutely. We hope that the Palau Pledge raises global awareness of the responsibility that this generation has to the next.”

While this new policy has captured the attention of people around the world, it isn’t Palau’s first significant environmental initiative. Palau was also the first country to ban bottom trawling and create a shark sanctuary. Palau’s National Marine Sanctuary, which is about the size of California, bans oil drilling and commercial fishing. Hopefully, the rest of the world will soon follow this tiny country’s lead and take similar steps to protect the environment.

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