The Palau International Coral Reef Center project is linked to the Common Agenda for the Cooperation in Global Perspective between Japan and the United States. In 1995, the Common Agenda created the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) that developed regional strategies to support the establishment of a coral reef conservation and research center in the Asia-Pacific region.
Palau was selected among several other candidate countries to be the location of the center due to its rich marine biodiversity and accessible reefs. In February 1997, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) conducted a project formulation study. Discussions and project development planning sessions consequently followed among representatives of the three countries. Palau’s national congress enacted the International Coral Reef Center Act to establish it as a self-sustaining, nonprofit coral reef center and marine park. The construction of the center started in November 1999.
The center has three major components—administration, research,
and the operations of aquarium exhibits for coral reef and marine resources conservation awareness. The tasks of these three components are linked together to achieve the center’s mission to create a self-sustaining center of excellence for marine research, training and educational activities.
The Palau International Coral Reef Center is a project meant to address critical global challenges to protect marine environments and raise awareness about the importance of preserving our coral reef ecosystems. The center also aims to initiate community outreach activities through its research staff in the future.
It addresses Chapters IX and XIV of the Barbados Programme of Action on Biodiversity Resources and Human Resource Development.
The Palau International Coral Reef Center is now in full operation and opened to the public on 1 January 2001. All aquariums in the exhibition area are set up and teeming with numerous species of marine plants and animals unique to Palau. The outdoor marine exhibits include diverse marine habitats of Palau, from the mangroves to the seagrass beds. The outdoor marine park features open-system aquariums that exhibit the different plant and animal dwellers of these habitats.
The indoor gallery displays several closed-system aquariums exhibiting marine organisms, such as an endemic species of nautilus from the aphotic zones of Palau’s waters and benthic organisms living in harmony in the shallower waters on the reefs in Palau. A kreisel tank exhibits the marine lake habitats of Palau and the amazing non-stinging golden mastigia jelly-fish, unique to Palau’s marine lakes.
The research building houses laboratories, a conference room, and a library for student and public use. Staffed by a Palauan management team, work has been initiated to form partnerships with local businesses and community organizations to bring public awareness about the importance of conserving coral-reef ecosystems. At the same time, researchers are teaming with local and regional agencies to set up coral-reef monitoring areas around Palau.
The public is now more environmentally aware of human impact on natural resources. Increasingly, communities are keen to learn proper ways of sustainable use, management and conservation of marine resources. The Center should be in a position to provide practical scientific knowledge as a basis for communities’ conservation efforts.
The Ministry of Education developed a framework for its science education curriculum for grades one through twelve. The framework provides a practical approach to the teaching of science rather than learning strictly from textbooks. Training of science teachers on how to carry out the activities outlined in the framework is seen as key to the success of this new approach to science education. The Center’s resources will be vital in support of this train-the-trainer programme in partnership with the schools.