Crowdfunding and scuba diving. Not exactly what comes to mind when you think of things that complement each other, but the island nation of Palau just scored major brownie points when it comes to thinking outside the box. Never heard of Palau? It’s okay, neither have the majority of people. Wnat’s important is that Palau has some of the most beautiful marine and coral reef ecosystems in the world. I happen to know this because I’ve been there- this past summer, I spent three weeks conducting coral reef research as a scientific scuba diver in Micronesia.
Among the many breathtaking sights I witnessed were a multitude of sharks (Gray Tip, White Tip, and Barracudas), wrasses, parrotfish, eagle rays, and sea turtles. That’s not to mention the coral, which was stunning in itself.
Nevertheless,if I were to highlight one must-see natural wonder in this small island nation, it would be Jellyfish Lake. An ordinary lake at first sight, your opinion quickly changes as soon as you submerge your masked-and-snorkled face into the water. Surrounding you are millions upon millions of jellyfish- 13 million to be exact. Luckily, these unique jellyfish have evolved over the ages, and have a sting so mild that it cannot be felt.
What does this have to do with crowdfunding? A fair point. As it turns out, the nation of Palau had a stroke of genius and decided to set up a national crowdfunding campaign to turn their territorial waters into a no-take marine protected area. The “Stand with Palau” crowdfunding campaign, which ended on October 13, 2015, successfully raised $118,048 dollars through the support of almost 600 donors, surpassing its original goal of $100,000 dollars. These funds will not only be used to establish the marine protected area, but also to maintain and monitor the sanctuary’s effectiveness. This effectively ensures that the fragile marine worlds that made Palau famous are preserved (and also ensures that Finding Nemo-esque sagas need never be repeated). With an area roughly equivalent to the size of Texas, the marine protected area includes water that are home to over 1,000 species of tropical fish.
As a scuba diver, I’ve seen firsthand the difference between marine ecosystems in protected versus non-protected areas- there is a noticeable change in the abundance and diversity of marine life. Moreover, Palau’s decision is not only environmentally savvy- it’s economically savvy. With tourism being a huge contribution to their GDP, Palau is a nation that realizes that the economic value of their natural wonders is maximized when they are healthy and flourishing.
Palau’s crowdfunding campaign is a powerful- and perhaps much needed- reminder of crowdfunding’s ability to spur immense social change. Palau is one small island nation- imagine the scale of impact that could be realized if larger countries followed suit.Yet, big or small, expansive or local- change is change- and positive change is always in order. Whether you are heading a grassroots organization or running a national government, it takes only this story to remember that large scale progress begins with the support of many like-minded individuals. As for me, I would like to say behalf on every scuba conservationist, “Sulang, Belau.” Thank you Palau!