Phase: On-location filming completed

Needed: Post-production and computer graphics


Yap is one of four states that comprise the Federation of States Micronesia (FSM). When visiting Yap we found a traditional society trying to adjust to a rapidly changing economic environment. For example, protecting marine resources from illegal harvesting is extremely difficult for FSM.  In 1999, FSM, Palau, and the Republic of Marshall Islands agreed to cooperate in policing illegal fishing in the region. Unfortunately, FSM has only three small patrol vessels manned mostly by volunteers, to police its entire economic zone. While filming on YAP,  the Marine Police Force had recently encountered a Vietnamese mothership that had launched up to 12 smaller boats to poach in FSM waters.  Miraculously, one patrol boat was able to detain and force three of the illegal boats into the port at Tomil harbor. Once in port, the poachers were detained for illegally harvesting fish, sea cucumbers, rare giant clams, lobsters, and a Hawksbill turtle. Regrettably, this situation created another financial burden to the state for they now have to feed and guard the captives until their release can be negotiated. This is just one instance of the how the people of FSM are facing a very difficult economic future.

Throughout the FSM territory, economic activity consists largely of subsistence farming, fishing, and government. Unfortunately, the loss of the biggest source of revenue,  government activity, is about to be severely impacted. Pursuant to the Compact of Free Association between the USA and FSM, the U.S. Government provides grant and program assistance. The United States provides over $130 million dollars yearly in direct assistance which is scheduled to end in 2023. As this annual rate is fixed, the government faces a continual decline in purchasing power each year.  Therefore, FSM will increasingly rely on the exploitation of their limited natural resources to meet economic needs.

Yap adds to the Spiral Pacific story of stress factors brought on by the increased human consumption of seafood products. The FSM's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) covers some 2.6 million sq km (1 million sq mi) of ocean which contain the world's most productive tuna fishing grounds.  Most FSM yearly tax revenue is raised through the sale of tuna fishing rights to external fleets. One big negative for the country is although it has sole ownership of tuna stocks capable of a sustained yield of well over 100,000 tons per year, there is virtually no national participation in the harvesting of this valuable resource. The people of FSM receive no economic benefit from the whole process of harvesting, transport, distribution, and sale of the tuna.  Inshore marine resources of the reefs and lagoons are harvested mainly for subsistence - this is especially true in the Yap State.  Yap continues as the most traditional society within the FSM with a strong caste system. Ownership of land in Yap extends out into the seabed. With such a fragmented system any type meaningful aquaculture is not currently possible. 

An economic bright spot for FSM has been the rise of eco-tourism. In general, each state has managed to overcome the fact that tourism is limited by isolation, lack of adequate facilities, and infrequent internal air and water transportation.  Yap tourism benefits by its commitment to protect two of its great marine attractions, the nearly year-round presence of giant Manta Rays and the very healthy number of sharks that visit the reefs surrounding the islands.  Yap is one of the few places in the world where regular sightings of giant Manta Rays occur.

The Spiral Pacific team's visit to Yap serves to contrast how a traditional society is increasingly confronted with global stressors which conflict with their cultural identity, yet they must integrate themselves into a modern world that they can no longer remain isolated from.  Yap's economy benefits from tuna fishing but that revenue is not enough to meet future demand. The local population must realize new economic growth from their marine resources without overexploiting them. Due to enormous profits generated by supplying the insatiable worldwide demand for fresh seafood, their government needs protection and partners to quell the poaching that constantly occurs throughout their EEZ.  In doing so they must ultimately depend upon all the inhabitants of the world coming together to responsibly protect the treasures that thrive in our oceans.






Phase: On-location filming completed

Needed: Post-production and computer graphics

PALAU has the world’s sixth largest, fully protected marine area, the Palau National Marine Sanctuary representing Palau’s defining contribution to preserving the world’s ocean resources. This protected, no-take sanctuary was established October 28, 2015. The sanctuary covers 80% of Palau’s territorial waters with the remaining 20% reserved for domestic fishing. It provides even greater protection for Palau’s environment while further enhancing Palau’s tourism revenues. The country’s vigilance in protecting the marine ecosystems found within their territorial waters is held in the highest esteem by the international conservation community. 

The nation puts a premium on promoting it’s highly efficient ecotourism industry in efforts led by President Tommy Remengesau. In 2014 the United Nations Environmental Programme bestowed upon him the Champion of the Earth award for his visionary leadership in strengthening Palau’s economic resilience by spearheading national initiatives to protect its biodiversity. Spiral Pacific attended the 2016 International Union for Conservation of Nature opening address by President Remengesau. He spoke of the importance of fighting climate change and protecting the ocean for island nations like Palau. “Today only about 2% of the total area of oceans is protected. Scientists tell us that figure should be at least 30%,” he said. “This is why Palau has sponsored a motion through the IUCN Assembly to adopt a target of establishing marine reserves that fully protect at least 30% of our oceans. And I call on all nations of the world to step up and support this critical motion for the oceans.”

In Palau, Spiral Pacific examines the financial and environmental impact that eco-tourism has on the country. The industry accounts for over 50% of Palau’s annual GDP. This revenue directly contributes to Palau's ability to support its no-take sanctuary. Palau welcomes more than 100,000 tourist/year with the number of annual visitors is still steadily increasing. The high volume of tourists means increased fresh-water use, energy use, sewage output, and eutrophication of coastal waters.  Hotel construction along the coast has led to erosion and sedimentation that can settle on top of the coral reefs just offshore. There is a concern as to whether the increasing number of visitors is sustainable without degrading the natural beauty that draws visitors to Palau in the first place.

Our findings draw out similar complex situations being confronted at other locations we visit in the Pacific. For example on Maui, developers planned to build a whole new city on the west side of the island. This planned development would be perched right above Olowalu Reef - a very unique and important area with old growth coral, that serves to propagate, or seed the reefs on neighboring islands. The project was successfully stopped.  Scientists along with the local community are pushing to have this fragile reef designated a Marine Protected Area (MPA).

In Yap, we address the financial benefit of eco-tourism. Can tourism be held in check so as not to degrade the surrounding marine environment, or negatively affect the culture of this traditional society? Yap elders face many of the same eco-tourism choices Palau weighed, including approving a proposed Chinese mega-resort. Is it possible to emulate the success of Palau’s eco-tourism boom while developing parameters that will keep growth in check, keep their cultural heritage, and thus be sustainable?