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Palau asking visitors to take pledge to protect local environment

Islands in Palau designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site are seen in this undated photo courtesy of the Palauan government's Bureau of Tourism.
The "Palau Pledge" in Japanese is stamped on a passport in this undated photo provided by the Palauan government's Bureau of Tourism.

Palau, a tiny Micronesian country that is suffering from serious environmental destruction as a result of an increase in the number of inbound tourists, has been asking visitors since December 2017 when they enter the country to pledge that they will protect the local environment.

During passport control, immigration officers stamp a message called the "Palau Pledge" on a passport, which partly reads, "I take this pledge, as your guest, to preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home," and "The only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away." Any visitor who refuses to sign the pledge will be denied entry into the country.

Since it was introduced, over 80,000 visitors have signed the "Palau Pledge," and nobody has refused to sign it.

Even though it is difficult to promote tourism while protecting the natural environment, experts are paying close attention to the move with one of them saying, "Palau's efforts can be used as a model for other regions."

The country introduced the system in response to a sharp increase in the number of inbound tourists.

The number of tourists visiting Palau, mainly from Asia, started increasing sometime around 2010 because of an increase in chartered flights to and from the country and the registration of the country's Rock Islands South Lagoon as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012.

In 2015, approximately 160,000 people visited Palau, which only has a population of about 20,000.

However, the amount of garbage on beaches and the number of cases where coral was destroyed have sharply increased, and environmental destruction has emerged as a serious problem in the country.

Palauan State Minister Faustina K. Rehuher-Marugg appeals for visitors to take the "Palau Pledge" in this file photo taken on May 19, 2018. (Mainichi)

Palauan State Minister Faustina K. Rehuher-Marugg said she feared that the country's culture that has been handed down from generation to generation could be destroyed.

The state minister also pointed out that through the Palau Pledge, many inbound tourists became more familiar with Palau's culture and that the policy has received good reactions from other countries that have the same kind of problem.

Rehuher-Marugg said she believes that a decision by a small country like Palau can change the world.

Hiroko Kobayashi, a professor of ecotourism at Tokai University, underscored the need to protect nature particularly in countries where the natural environment is a major tourist attraction.

"In areas where the natural environment is a tourism resource, the tourism industry can't be viable if nature is destroyed," Kobayashi said.

"Palau's declaration that it wants people who can protect the environment to visit the country can serve as a model for Yakushima Island (in Kagoshima Prefecture) and the Ogasawara Islands (south of Tokyo)," said the professor. Both Yakushima and Ogasawara are registered as World Heritage sites.

(Japanese original by Suzuko Araki, Tokyo Science & Environment News Department)

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