The Pacific island nation of Palau made waves in the ocean conservation world earlier this year with an announcement that they plan on turning their territorial waters into a no-take marine protected area. Part of the solution to supporting this project will rely on crowdfunding, a growing staple of fundraising.
Palau’s waters are home to over 1,000 species of tropical fish, and their new national marine sanctuary will cover approximately 600,000 square kilometers, an area about the size of France or Texas. This action is the latest ocean conservation move from a country whose constitution requires leaders to “take positive action to conserve a beautiful, healthful and resourceful [sic] natural environment.”
Establishing and running a marine protected area can weigh heavily on a nation’s finances. In addition to buying the technology to enforce the rules (not just boats and airplanes but drones, satellites and passive monitoring buoys) it costs money to research the effectiveness of the protected area, to publicize the new rules and to educate locals about them. To help cover some of these costs, Palau has created the “Stand with Palau” crowdfunding campaign.
The campaign, which recently concluded after raising $53,000 from more than 400 donors, is truly historic. “This is the first time a nation-state has started a marine conservation crowdfunding campaign,” says Daniel Kachelriess, the outreach coordinator for Stand with Palau. “The money raised through the campaign will directly support the implementation of the [Palau] National Marine Sanctuary. It is really about fleshing out the next steps—especially in regard to data collection, monitoring and enforcement framework—and making sure the marine sanctuary is implemented in a way that is on the medium term economically and environmentally sustainable,” he says.
Marine conservation experts believe that Stand with Palau could become a possible example to be replicated elsewhere. “Crowdfunding holds a lot of promise if you can provide concrete actions and projects that will result from the effort,” says Beth Pike, a conservation scientist at the Marine Conservation Institute. “Microdonations, apps and the like are the future for younger generations.” Pike adds, “I think ‘sexy’ projects like creating technology to enforce MPAs [marine protected areas] could be—and has been for Palau—something that works for funding campaigns.”
Although results vary, the most effective MPAs result in proliferation of both the number of fish and the variety of marine species, compared with immediately adjacent areas where fishing is permitted. The funding raised so far serves as an early demonstration that this method of Internet-based financing is potentially viable in providing at least some of the support needed to launch ambitious environmental projects in far-flung corners of the globe. Whether this approach to funding could become a primary means of support on a continuing basis remains unclear. For now, though, the funds raised by the Stand with Palau campaign show global backing for the new National Marine Sanctuary.