Country Profiles

Palau - Country Profile

Biodiversity Facts

Status and trends of biodiversity, including benefits from biodiversity and ecosystem services

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Palau is home to many species and ecosystems that are endemic or rare. It has the greatest area of continuous native forest in Micronesia. With more than 1,200 species of plants, of which over 860 are native, its forests are the most species-diverse in Micronesia. At least ten of its known endemic vascular plant species are categorized as endangered, threatened or vulnerable. The rare palm Ponapea palauensis (Chesebuuch) is critically endangered and the Parkia parvifoliola (Kmekumer), a tree once widespread and prized for the quality of its lumber, is endangered today. The richest diversity is found in the Class Hexapoda (insects) which is notably the most diverse group of animals on the face of the earth. Over 1,200 species of insects and closely related arthropods, with an endemism rate of around 25%, have been documented however a recent study suggests the number of terrestrial arthropods may approach 10,000 species. At least 95% of land snail species are endemic. Also, recent survey work has increased the number of ant species from an original estimate of 16 species to 80 or more species, and established the presence of functional groups of ants that can be used as bioindicators for monitoring the health of Palau’s forest ecosystems. As such, ants provide an example of the urgent need for further study of terrestrial arthropods.

Located on the northeastern margin of the area called "the Coral Triangle", Palau has the highest levels of marine and terrestrial biodiversity within Micronesia. Palau has the richest fish fauna in Micronesia (95% of Micronesian fish species are found in Palau). The country supports more than 350 species of hard coral, 200 species of soft coral, over 300 species of sponges and more than 1,300 species of reef fish. However, the El Niño event in 1998 led to significant ecosystem damage in both marine and terrestrial environments. Elevated seawater temperatures contributed to massive coral bleaching and decline of sea life in near shore areas. Some areas have yet to recover fully from the event. At the peak of the El Niño event in March 1998, Palau received the lowest amount of rainfall in over 100 years of records. The resulting drought led to depletion of water supplies, crop failures, and uncontrolled wildfires on some islands.

Very little is known about the native (indigenous) freshwater fishes of Palau however at least 50 species are thought to occur in Palau’s rivers (the most diverse group is the gobies, which include four or more endemic species). Palau has 44 species of reptiles and two species of amphibians. The Palauan frog, Platymantis pelewensis, is the only endemic amphibian in Palau and is unusual in that very few endemic frogs are known from small island countries. A total of 171 bird species from Palau have been reported, highlighted by 21 endemics including 11 endemic species, 6 endemic subspecies and 2 endemic genera. Rising sea levels due to climate change as well as the increased frequency and intensity of tropical typhoons also due to climate change are the most urgent threats to Palau’s bird diversity. The Palau Megapode is critically endangered by climate change. Recent typhoons have destroyed approximately 15% of the Megapode nesting grounds in Palau. As is the case with many small, isolated Pacific islands, Palau’s native diversity of terrestrial mammals is limited to bats and rats.

Palau’s forests are highly valued as watershed areas, for preventing soil erosion, as sources of firewood, medicines, building materials, and as areas to forage and hunt for food. An International Monetary Fund report from 2012 indicated that on average tourism accounts for 50% of Palau’s GDP. Significant additional income is generated by the fisheries.

Main pressures on and drivers of change to biodiversity (direct and indirect)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS), like Palau, are particularly susceptible to ecological disturbances related to global climate change. Economic development is also negatively impacting biodiversity (e.g. Palau has just passed the National Petroleum Revenue Management and Sharing Act and the Petroleum Act providing for the development of possible off-shore petroleum reserves in Palau’s EEZ; while this can diversify the national economy, environmental issues will have to be addressed). Other pressures are linked to population growth and urbanization (e.g. development following the completion of the Compact Road, a national highway encircling the island of Babeldaob, has contributed significantly to land degradation as have other activities (or lack thereof); and water quality and quantity. In addition, there is a need to address data gaps, improve understanding of conservation and protection needs through research and analysis, as well conduct monitoring and analyses of outcomes of initiatives. To ensure sustainable development and the use of natural resources, national guidelines need to be established for developing state and protected area-specific management plans that provide for comprehensive, consistent and adequate protection, for which capacity development is needed. Also, some cultural practices coupled with improved technology have contributed to declines in biodiversity which calls for management strategies that merge traditional and modern practices.

Measures to Enhance Implementation of the Convention

Implementation of the NBSAP

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Palau completed its first NBSAP in 2005 which was developed around 8 thematic areas: Protected/Managed Areas; Species Protection; Biosecurity - Invasive Species and Biosafety; Sharing of Benefits of Genetic Resources; Sustainable Economic Development; Prevention or Minimization of Waste; Agricultural Biodiversity; Mainstreaming of Biodiversity Conservation. Over the last 10 years, biodiversity conservation in general and community-based conservation activities in particular have grown considerably in Palau. Local communities have designated protected areas throughout the country in order to protect species and sites important to them. The number of these protected areas in Palau has more than doubled in the past 10 years (more information in this regard is provided in the next section).

Work on revising the NBSAP in line with the global framework is ongoing.

Actions taken to achieve the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

A national framework for protected areas, known as the Palau Protected Areas Network (PAN), now exists. PAN’s goal is to provide national-level support for protected area management activities at the local level. Protected areas are recognized at the regional and international levels through the Micronesia Challenge. Additionally, there are more organizations involved in conservation and resource management than there were 10 years ago. Many of the groups and people working on conservation in Palau recognize the importance of sharing limited human and other resources and often work in collaborative partnerships.

Already recognized as the world’s first shark sanctuary, President Tommy Remengesau has recently proposed that Palau become a marine sanctuary, which would lead to greater protection of the country’s fisheries.

Support mechanisms for national implementation (legislation, funding, capacity-building, coordination, mainstreaming, etc.)

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Ownership of marine resources is established in Article I, Section 2 of Palau’s Constitution, stating that each state “has exclusive ownership of all living and nonliving resources, except highly migratory fish, from the land to twelve nautical miles seaward of the baseline.” Land can be owned by individual Palauan citizens, clans, or by state and national governments, in which case lands are often administered by designated government agencies.

Palau has recently adopted a number of strategic planning documents, such as the Forest Management Plan, National Invasive Species Management Plan, Sustainable Land Management Policy, Megapode Conservation Action Plan, Water Policy, and is in the process of developing an ABS Strategy.

Mechanisms for monitoring and reviewing implementation

The content of this biodiversity profile is still draft. The text below has been prepared by SCBD and remains subject to final approval by the Party concerned.

Considering the lack of quantitative data and monitoring capacity for many environmental processes and species in Palau, effort has been made to identify qualitative indicators of ecosystem health. It is hoped that using qualitative indicators can be used to improve environmental until local capacity for qualitative data collection and management improves. Some progress has been made in improving understanding of possible indicators of ecosystem health. The Belau National Museum, in cooperation with the Palau Conservation Society and the Palau International Coral Reef Center, has completed preliminary studies to identify bird species that can be used to indicate near shore environmental quality. More research and analysis is needed to improve understanding of the conservation needs facing Palau as well as to improve the ability to monitor and analyze the outcomes of conservation initiatives.