Some thirty participants representing the government (Bureau of Justice: Office of the Attorney General and Division of Fish and Wildlife Protection) Bureau of Agriculture (BOA including the Division of Biosecurity), Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, Environmental Quality Protection Board, Ngatpang State; the private sector (BIOTA, Inc., Coral Reef Research Foundation, Palau Aquaculture Cooperative Association, Palau Conservation Society, Environment, Inc.); and the academe (Palau Community College) met on 28 March during a national consultation held at the Palasia Hotel. The participants deliberated on the draft regulations on aquatic biosecurity and biofouling management, actions that are intended to protect Palau’s young and growing aquaculture sector, as well as its exquisite coral reefs and lagoons.
Aquaculture is an important source of biological invasions, either because the organisms being raised are aquatic invasive species or because of the presence of hitchhikers in imported shipments. Aquaculture organisms can also carry diseases which can impact the aquaculture industry and may spread to native species. In order to reduce pressures on wild marine fish and other marine organisms of economic importance, the national government has decided to increase aquaculture efforts in both marine and freshwater. While efforts have focused on breeding native fish and shellfish such as groupers, clams and mangrove crabs, there is also pressure to import exotic species, such as tilapia and whiteleg shrimp.
Shipping is also a major concern, as it is has caused the global spread of many marine organisms. All groups of marine organisms may be transported through ballast water, while encrusting organisms (e.g. macro-algae, bivalve mollusks, barnacles, bryozoans, sponges and tunicates), can be carried on ships’ hulls. Both may result in the introduction and spread of hard-to-eradicate species that prey on or outcompete native species and foul ports, coasts and aquaculture facilities. These invasive species are a serious threat to the pristine marine waters of Palau. In particular, recreational yachts pose a very high risk for hull-fouling organisms, as they are slow moving and may lack the incentives to keep their hulls immaculate.
With the support of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) through TCP/PLW/3601/C1: Strengthening Biosecurity Capacity of Palau, the BOA and other partners in the marine and aquaculture sectors have been working with a team of experts on aquatic animal health, hull fouling, and database development to support the recently approved Biosecurity Act of 2014 that will protect Palau’s aquaculture producers from diseases and other threats to their farms.
In opening the national consultation, the Honorable Umiich Sengebau, Minister of Natural Resources, Environment and Tourism, thanked FAO and the participants for supporting this important effort by the BOA to protect Palau’s aquaculture industry and our pristine marine environment. “These protections should be adopted and implemented as quickly as possible, and I ask that all here today work together toward this end.”
There was strong consensus from the participants of the national consultation to support the implementation of the Biosecurity Act of 2014, finalize the draft regulations and submit a position paper that will enable Palau’s President and Cabinet to make informed decisions to support Pristine Paradise Palau through a culture of protection and conservation.