Helen Reef

The Helen Reef community has demonstrated how a small group of motivated stewards can make a huge difference with strong local leadership and global partners like OneReef.


Helen Reef Atoll is the Republic of Palau’s largest, most biologically diverse coral reef and has been managed and conserved by the community for generations.

Since the 1980s, increased illegal commercial fishing and the effects of a changing climate have presented global challenges to the reef’s health. Unchecked, these pressures can rapidly deplete populations of coral species that are important to the Helen Reef community’s fishing needs and are critical to maintaining the reef’s ability to resist the ongoing effects of climate change.

Our Marine Conservation Agreement

In 2010, OneReef began working with the Helen Reef community to help protect their reefs for future generations. We met with Thomas Patris, an avid fisherman, state governor, and part of the Helen Reef community. He co-led a pioneering local effort to stop illegal fishing at this remote coral atoll, and by 2010 this effort was ready to develop robust international partnerships with the OneReef team.

OneReef connected Thomas with Barrett Walker, a successful entrepreneur and board member at the Alex C. Walker Foundation. Barrett is an ocean lover with a flair for market-based solutions, and has a keen interest in Asia-Pacific cultures and the environment. He is clearly focused on measurable impact that he can see with his own eyes.

By engaging the local community with such global partners, OneReef is working to protect Thomas’ atoll from poaching. The right resources, scientific monitoring of progress, and an approach that gives respect to all involved yet the community in the driver’s seat.

Next Steps

Since 2010, we have created a permanent ranger station on the atoll and trained 12 conservation officers to identify and approach illegal fishing vessels. We have installed a radar tower, desalination unit, satellite phone, and generator to allow officers to live on the island 24/7 and provide constant surveillance and support. We are now moving into a long-term agreement with the Helen Reef Resource Management Board and the community. This will include increasing enforcement and management capacity, training nearby communities to create a network of managed areas, and creating an endowment to sustainably finance operations at the Atoll.