South Pacific states to create giant marine reserve

February 24, 2012
Pacific Oceanscape

The 15 states of the South Pacific are to link up their marine reserves this year in an effort to sustainably manage one tenth of the world's oceans and boost maritime conservation globally.

At the World Oceans summit in Singapore this week the Micronesian and Polynesian nations, together with Australia and New Zealand, have been outlining their plan to implementing the network in conjunction with environmentalists to ease the impacts of over-fishing, pollution, acidification and climate change that are threatening their economic and social systems.

The project, which aims to cover an area bigger than the combined territories of the US and Canada, comes amid a raft of new moves to reduce the alarming deterioration of the world's marine environment even as governments and businesses push ahead with ever more development of coastlines, industrial fishing and deep-sea mining.

To counter these threats, pioneering Kiribati is positioning itself as a pioneer of ocean sustainability and a model for the “World Oceans”. Having already created a vast nature reserve around the Phoenix Islands - which is now UNESCO's biggest natural heritage site - it signed up last September with 14 neighboring island states to the Pacific Oceanscape Framework drawn up in conjunction with the US-based NGO, Conservation International.

In the coming years, the signatories aim to co-operatively manage their marine resources and design policies that improve ocean health, increase resources, share expertise, and factor ocean issues into decisions about economic and sustainable development.

Kiribati is the first state to try to put this scheme into practice. As an incentive - and to compensate for the loss of fisheries affected by the program - it will receive USD5 million from an endowment fund set up by Conservation International and the Global Environment Facility of the World Bank.

It will be followed in August by Tokelau Island and Cook Island, which will add their combined sea area of 1.4 million square kilometers - about three times the size of California - into the Pacific Oceanscape network.