Looking for sustainable travel ideas? Palau is the world’s first nation to change its laws for sustainability and sustainable tourism.
A trailblazer of sustainable tourism, Palau is a beautiful archipelago of about 200 limestone and volcanic islands in the western Pacific Ocean that’s become the world’s first nation to change its immigration laws to help protect its environment. Upon entry, visitors now need to sign a pledge to act in an ecologically responsible way on the island, and entry visas are only issued to those who sign it.
‘It is our responsibility to show our guests how to respect our island home, just as it is their duty to uphold the signed pledge when visiting,’ says Tommy Remengesau, President of the Republic of Palau. The nation’s population of about 21,000 has also signed the pledge, which was drafted, rather wonderfully, with the help of children from all over the country.
It reads: “Children of Palau, I take this pledge, as your guest, to preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home. I vow to tread lightly, act kindly and explore mindfully. I shall not take what is not given. I shall not harm what does not harm me. The only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away.”
Every tourist who takes the pledge needs to follow a set of sustainable tourism guidelines or risk a fine. These include simple things not to do – such as collect marine life souvenirs, feed the fish and sharks, drop litter or smoke in restricted areas – and to do – such as respect local customs and culture, take care over local wildlife and coral, and support local businesses and communities. Not bad for a country that covers an area of just 180 square miles.
In 2015 Palau turned most of its territorial waters into a marine sanctuary in which commercial fishing and oil drilling is banned, but as with other Pacific island nations, rising sea levels, illegal dynamite fishing, inadequate waste disposal facilities and extensive sand and coral dredging continue to present a major environmental threat. Mass tourism has also had an enormous negative impact on the state of the island’s resources, from its water supply and beaches to its coral reefs and local heritage sites. The island needs tourism – but the right kind of responsible tourism – which is where the pledge comes in.
‘The Palau Pledge is a wonderful example of a local community who are taking collective action to achieve responsible tourism in their destination,’ CEO of Earthcheck Stewart Moore told itmustbeNOW Magazine. ‘Tourism needs to be treated and recognised as a privilege and not a right. As travellers we have a responsibility to tread lightly in the destinations that we visit, to respect local customs and to play a part in helping to protect and maintain the health of the local environment.’
All Palauns have also signed the pledge, and a new curriculum for primary and secondary school students aims to help build eco-awareness in tomorrow’s leaders and conscious business principles within the tourist sector. The mere act of putting pen to paper and signing a pledge encourages people to do what they say they will do – and that they know to be right. It’s a wonderful example of what other countries can do all over the world. Find out more here.