To enter the Republic of Palau, sign here.
On Dec. 7, the Pacific island destination unveiled a new pledge for all incoming visitors and became the first country to incorporate environmental practices into its immigration laws. Before guests receive the stamp in their passport, which they must sign before an officer, they will watch an in-flight video inspired by a Palauan legend. In the film, a giant lands on the archipelago and inadvertently stomps on its natural resources. Realizing the damage he has wrought, he pursues a more sustainable, gentle-giant approach, thereby helping preserve the islands' natural beauty for future generations.
The takeaway lesson for tourists: Tiptoe on those big feet of yours.
"Tourists do not realize the negative impact they are having," said Laura Clarke, one of the four co-founders of the Palau Legacy Project. "If something isn't done, it is clear that tourists collectively could cause serious damage and devastation to Palau's fragile ecosystems."
The agreement, which is dedicated to the children of Palau, opens with this promise: "I take this pledge as your guest, to preserve and protect your beautiful and unique island home." The statement urges visitors to follow such environmentally sound practices as "tread lightly, act kindly and explore mindfully." It also warns them to not take or harm any precious objects. It closes with a poetic flourish: "The only footprints I shall leave are those that will wash away."
The Palau Legacy Project created the pledge to address a growing concern over tourists' careless behaviors, such as littering, corrupting coral and disturbing protected species. The country can take legal action against visitors who break the conditions of the document, including issuing fines of up to $1 million. Signs at the airport and around the islands remind guests of their responsibilities. Among the don'ts: feeding the fish and sharks, and snatching fruit or flowers from gardens.
Palau, one of the world's smallest nations, supports a population of 20,000 people and 160,000 annual visitors. Tourism has surged over the past three years, which has startled islanders - and also motivated them to act.
"The pledge hopes to raise awareness of how we are all interconnected," Clarke said, "and how decisions made outside Palau impact the country as much as visitors do."