Snorkellers can help protect Micronesian sharks

“Any­one in­ter­est­ed in the ocean and mar­ine life must go to Palau,” says Mar­i­lyn Carlsmith, a past par­tici­pant of Ocean­ic So­ci­e­ty’s Micro­nesia snor­kel­ling program.

“It ri­vals, if not ex­ceeds the Sey­chelles, Mal­di­ves and Great Bar­rier Reef. It is by far the calmest sea for div­ing and snor­kel­ling, with the most in­cred­ible mar­ine life im­agin­able. Go­ing with the Ocean­ic So­ci­e­ty, it’s good to know you’re sup­port­ing im­port­ant con­serv­a­tion work at the same time as hav­ing an amaz­ing ex­peri­ence.”

Founded in 1969 as a non-prof­it con­serv­a­tion or­gan­i­za­tion, Ocean­ic So­ci­e­ty has been run­ning ex­ped­itions that con­serve mar­ine wild­life and habi­tats by deep­ening the connections be­tween people and na­ture through first-hand ex­peri­en­ces.

They have trips all over the world — to Bel­ize, Co­lom­bia, Australia and Pan­ama — but it’s their Micro­nesia trip to Palau that has snorkellers com­ing from all over the globe.

Lo­cat­ed just north of the equa­tor, Micro­nesia con­sists of high vol­can­ic islands inter­spersed with low-lying at­olls with coral reefs en­circ­ling blue la­goons.

This is the re­mote un­spoiled Pacific: think palm-thatched huts, out­rig­ger ca­noes and co­co­nut trees — you might even rec­og­nize it from the TV show Sur­viv­or.

Palau is a snorkeller’s para­dise; a giant coral la­goon filled with islands har­bour­ing an ar­ray of rain­bow col­oured fish, spon­ges and corals.

“Currently Palau is a lead­er among island na­tions in find­ing unique ways to pro­tect and draw at­ten­tion to the value of healthy mar­ine eco­systems to pro­vide long-term eco­nom­ic sta­bil­ity to their people,” says Wayne Sentman, dir­ec­tor of In­ter­na­tion­al Eco-Tour Programs at Ocean­ic So­ci­e­ty. “When we choose des­tin­a­tion part­ners to work with, we at­tempt to sup­port local­ly owned busi­ness­es and lodg­es, where our pay­ments will sup­port people that are try­ing to make a liv­ing from con­serv­ing their nat­ural re­sour­ces, not con­sum­ing them.”

Among those lo­cal or­gan­i­za­tions is the Micro­nes­ian Shark Foundation. The foun­da­tion works with­in the Palau com­mun­ity and schools in the sur­round­ing area to raise aware­ness about how shark fin­ning is a counter­product­ive way to find eco­nom­ic gain.

High de­mand from Asia for dish­es like shark fin soup drives the il­legal kill­ing of around 73 mil­lion sharks every year.

“Sharks in Palau, while still oc­ca­sion­al­ly il­legal­ly hunt­ed for their fins, are now some of the best pro­tect­ed in the world’s oceans. Il­legal fish­eries, when dis­cov­ered, face se­vere fines.

“These poli­cies have helped to main­tain a healthy pred­a­tor-dom­in­at­ed trop­ic­al mar­ine eco­system in Palau,” ex­plains Sentman.

“That’s hard to find these days in most popu­lar dive and snor­kel des­tin­a­tions in the Pacific.”

The ex­peri­ence of trav­el­ling to some­where like Palau ul­tim­ate­ly serves to “re-in­spire” the vis­itor as to why we all have so much to gain from mak­ing sure we con­tinue to work at pro­tecting ocean en­viron­ments.

For more in­for­ma­tion, vis­it­nesia

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