New Law in Palau Empowers Communities to Manage Ocean Waters

June 5, 2024

Newly passed legislation in Palau has for the first time placed an area of ocean water under community-led management. The new law, passed by the Melekeok State government, officially recognizes the Melekeok community’s management plan for the 172-hectare Ngeschsiau Managed Access area off the nation’s eastern coast.

Local small-scale fishers will now enjoy exclusive access to the fishery. The move also protects the 45-hectare Ngermedellim Marine Sanctuary reserve, where fishing and other human activity is off limits.

Shelly, a Melekeok local, relies on fish catch to supplement her family’s food. She’s seen here clamming.

“This is a huge win for local fishers and local communities,” said Kevin Mesebeluu, Project Implementation Manager for Rare in Palau. “With this legislation, Palau is showing that it values traditional, Indigenous knowledge as vital to sustainable ocean management.”

Rare’s Kevin Mesebeluu (left) speaks with fishers about fisher registration and asking for feedback during the Community Fishing Derby in Melekeok, Palau.


Managed access with reserves (MA+R) is a fisheries management system that empowers local communities with rights to manage local fisheries. Ngeschsiau is the first Managed Access area in Palau formalized through legislation, with local Chiefs playing a vital management role. It integrates indigenous traditional knowledge from the Chiefs of Ngerang Village in Melekeok into the fisheries management body as advisors, recognizing the importance of traditional knowledge along with scientific data in the management of the fishery.

“Local fishers and village chiefs in Melekeok have been effective stewards of the ocean for generations. Empowering their rights to fish these waters and manage them sustainably will hopefully be a blueprint for the rest of Palau,” said Governor Henaro Polloi, who represents Melekeok State, the Capitol of the island nation of Palau. Polloi is also a member of the Coastal 500 global network of local leaders committed to thriving coastal communities and ecosystems.

Governor Polloi giving a closing speech at a community fishing derby in Melekeok Marina, Palau.


Ngeschsiau is a critical habitat for key target species and is recognized by the community as a highly productive fishing area. It serves as a nursery for clams, urchins, sea cucumbers, and other species vital for the community’s food security and livelihoods. After many years of production, Ngeschsiau has been assessed as requiring robust restoration and management efforts to counteract degradation and rejuvenate its habitats.

“The Global Biodiversity Framework global Biodiversity Plan stresses the importance of meeting ambitious protection targets while recognizing and respecting the rights of Indigenous and local communities,” said Rocky Sanchez Tirona, Managing Director of Rare’s Fish Forever program. “This Managed Access area is an important step towards community-led conservation, a proven path toward protecting biodiversity, while also meeting the needs of local communities.”

Studies have shown that involving local, Indigenous communities in participatory management of marine areas can be more effective than penalties in yielding increased. fish biomass. Managed Access with Reserves is a type of Other Effective area-based Conservation Measure (OECM) designed to protect areas where nature and human activity intersect.