Dates: June 22-28, 2014
Divers: Dr. Stuart Sandin, Clint Edwards, Lindsay Bonito
Lead Organizations: OneReef, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
The Palau archipelago comprises 12 inhabited islands and over 700 small islands and islets, totaling in 488 km2 land area. Located 750 km east of The Philippines and north of the Equator, Palau stretches over 700 km of ocean.
The Helen Reef expedition was a collaborative effort to execute three objectives to establish a scientific baseline for coral reef health at Helen Reef and assess the effectiveness of the technology and infrastructure used for enforcement of the Helen Reef no-take marine protected area. First, the photomosaic imaging project was launched at Helen Reef, with the goal of documenting the current state of the benthic coral reef communities of Helen Reef. The data collection team coordinated with the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC) to select 12 sites around Helen Reef where the fish assemblage had previously been surveyed. Second, an assessment of the technology and techniques used to monitor illegal activity was conducted to see what improvements can be made to ensure Helen Reef remains healthy. Lastly, Google participated to collect underwater street views of the marine landscape (360 panoramic views).
The Helen Reef Conservation Area and Resource Management Program. The Hatohobei State Government, the owner and steward of Helen’s marine resources, has enacted a state Conservation Area for Helen Reef which encompasses approximately 264 sq. km. The Conservation Area is currently a no-entry / no-take zone (with exceptions) and in the future is intended, through the development of a management plan, to allow for multiple-use and compatible economic activities, as decided by the resource-owning community.
Human Use & Interaction at Helen Reef:
Although Helen Reef is 40 hours by boat from Koror, is it not entirely free from anthropogenic impacts. The benthic and fish community is largely considered intact compared to other reef ecosystems, however, illegal fishing activity has been reported, largely from Philippine vessels, has threatened the system and many economically valuable species have been depleted. Helen Island itself only supports a small staff of marine park rangers, roughly 6 individuals, gaining a status of inhabited.