Helen Reef Newsletter

September 7, 1999



1.        A recent synoptic monitoring trip to Helen Reef occurred this August.


Survey results indicate that Helen experienced a severe bleaching event at about the same time as other areas in the region.Grouper spawning aggregations targeted during recent legal and illegal live-fishing ventures were still present, although their abundance compared to historical levels is unknown.Trochus and calm levels were very low, indicating continued heavy poaching pressure.No large sharks were seen on any part of the surveys. Sea turtles were present, but at much lower levels than previously encountered by residents.Sea birds are still under severe threat from collection by humans.The Hatohobei community participated in this monitoring event and shared in its results.


2.        An introductory coral reef monitoring course was presented to community members as a means to increasing community awareness and involvement in monitoring design, and, in turn, decision-making.


3.        As a part of incorporating monitoring into State plans, the State is preparing for a collaborative community/scientific monitoring expedition in the summer of 2000.


As of last week, the Governor presented a State program budget of $50,000 to the Palau National Congress for Helen Reef management activities.$25,000 of this amount will be used to attract matching funds for a dive-boat charter and other expenses during a two week monitoring trip.The State has also committed the use of their supply vessel to support community involvement during this expedition.


4.        Representatives of the State have met with the coordinator of the Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and coral reef biologists from the University of Guam to discuss issues of coral reef monitoring at Helen.


Meetings were very constructive and encouraging to the community.The Guam scientists and others expressed a great interest in participating in baseline monitoring establishment at Helen, at a reduced cost to the State Government.


5.        The State Government and CCN have begun very positive discussions with representatives of the Palau International Coral Reef Research Center (PICRRC) to explore possible cooperation in establishing a controlled, semi-permanent human presence at Helen.


The subject of creating a satellite research facility was discussed at length, with the idea of Helen being used as a relatively pristine control site for long-term, post-bleaching study of coral recruitment and recovery in Palau.The possibility assisting in the establishment of a Marine Protected Area (MPA) at Helen and World Heritage designation was introduced by the Center President.


6.        Following above meeting, representatives of the State, CCN, and PICRRC met with the Palau Minister of Justice, who supervises maritime enforcement of Palauís territorial waters, to discuss possible collaboration among the interested parties in improving enforcement and compliance at Helen.


The Minister acknowledged the serious enforcement problems at Helen Reef and committed his Ministry toward enhancing compliance within Palauís southern territory, given obligatory funding and cooperation with the State.Plans were initiated to draft proposals for means of creating a permanent enforcement presence at the reef. (Rough estimates for initial start-up costs ran between $200,000 and $300,000, but need further investigation and consideration.)Included in these concepts was national government support for 50% of enforcement salaries, with the remainder being shared by the State or some other source.To help finance management actions, a policy analysis was requested by the Minister to investigate changing current fiscal laws so that the State could capture a majority of profits from fines and sale of confiscated vessels.The possibility of linking an enforcement facility with other activities, such as research, was presented by PICRRC representatives and endorsed by the Minister as a possible means of sharing costs.


7.        To date, there have been three very successful community meetings and one special legislative session to discuss the protection and management of Helen Reef.††


The first meeting was an introductory meeting.The second meeting presented and described the results of the recent monitoring trip to Helen.And the third meeting met specifically to address the issue of Helen Reef ownership.†† The legislative session investigated new decision-making approaches relevant to the Helen Reef management problem presented by Mike Guilbeaux.


8.        Plans have been made to conduct a community exposure visit of a MPA in northern Palau (Kayangel State) to learn about some of the successes and challenges the people of Kayangel faced when implementing their management actions.


9.        Just yesterday, members of the Hatohobei community and State officials meet with Noah Idechong of the Palau Conservation Society, to discuss the Stateís progress, marine conservation topics, and future cooperation between the State and other groups.††


10.     News of yet another foreign fishing vessel becoming grounded on top of the reef at Helen was learned during the week of August 30th.Plans are being made to assess potential damage to the reef from this vessel including physical damage to corals and the pollution from oil and fuel.