Day 9: Airai Protected Area and Biota Aquaculture

Today we began our morning with Clarence again as we headed out on the boat to the Medal Ngediull Conservation Area in the state of Airai. As we talked more about the conservation site, we got to chat with the director of the PAN and the Speaker of the House for the state. They talked to us about some of the biggest problems facing this PAN: sedimentation and overfishing. The sedimentation is a huge issue here because the water flowing into the small bay carried too much sediment from the construction of the airport and local development. Too much sediment harms the coral and seagrass beds here, in turn reducing the populations of fish and marine life. Overfishing of sea cucumbers and rabbitfish have also reduced populations numbers and they aim to bring some of these species back to a healthy number. We asked them how the community responded when they decided to close the fishing for the 5 year term, and they said that the more educated portion of the community was in favor because they understood the benefits, but it was hard on local fishermen whose livelihoods depend on this area.They tell us that by working with the community and following the sediment trails, they are trying their best to reduce the negative effects in the conservation preserve. After chatting with these men, we got the chance to do some snorkeling in the seagrass and coral reefs to see some amazing marine life and different kinds of fish.

The Medal Ngediull Conservation Area in the state of Airai.
View from the island near the protected area, where we waited for the tide to come back in.
Clarence and the director of the Airai protected area talking with us about the issues of sedimentation and overfishing.

While waiting for the tide to come back, we spent time pairing up and measuring the sea cucumber abundance by counting sea cucumbers within each measured transect. We did the sampling to compare the abundance difference outside of the protected area and within the protected area.

Students measuring the sea cucumber abundance outside of the protected area.

Later in the afternoon we visited the Biota Marine Life Nursery, which collects wild spawned eggs from tropical fish in Palau. They mainly nurse and grow tropical fish, small and giant clams and coral for aquarium export, but they also help restock the rabbitfish population as an agreement with the state of Airai for developing a site there. They have restocked the fish in the past, but so far do not have any data collected to reflect their efforts of restocking. They have collected eggs and nursed some very rare fish including the burbonias anthias, a spiny fish found only below 100 meters or about 300 feet in the ocean. Their efforts claim to be sustainable for the waters of Palau, as Palau remains one of the only places that is labeled as having a healthy coral reef.

Baby coral being grown at Biota.
Wild giant clams being grown at Biota for export to aquariums.
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