The island nation of Palau has changed its laws so that all visitors must sign a pledge to act in an ecologically responsible way while on the island.
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The island nation of Palau, a Pacific archipelago of about 200 natural limestone and volcanic islands, is famed for the natural beauty of its forests and its aquamarine lagoon. With a population of less than 20,000, Palau is the thirteenth smallest nation in the world, but it hosts more than 160,000 visitors each year and this large-scale tourism is threatening to destroy the country’s fragile environment. In response, Palau has taken a unique step to protect its unique ecosystem and establish a new model of conscious tourism.
The Palau Pledge is a promise, required from all visitors and made directly to the children of Palau, to preserve their home. Visitors must sign the pledge, which is stamped in their passports, before they can enter the country. The first people to take the pledge were prominent Pulauans, including the president, traditional chiefs, and business leaders. Tommy E. Remengesau Jr President of Palau, has long argued that responsibility for enacting change rests with everyone. “It is our responsibility to show our guests how to respect Palau, just as it is their duty to uphold the signed pledge when visiting.” The pledge joins other innovations in eco-friendly tourism, such as a social enterprise that connects tourists to local craftspeople, and a sustainable travel platform.
Children from all over Palau participated in drafting the pledge, which requires signers to follow a sustainable tourist checklist or face a fine. The checklist includes items such as: Don’t feed fish or sharks; Don’t collect marine life souvenirs; Support local businesses and communities; Don’t drag fins over coral when swimming; and Don’t take fruit or flowers from gardens. Palau has a long history of world-firsts in conservation, including the first country to create a shark sanctuary in its national waters; the first to ban the reef-destroying practice of bottom trawling; and the creation of the largest fully-protected, no-take zone in the world. Will the Palau Pledge set the standard for a legal requirement to be an ecologically responsible tourist in other countries?