New Caledonia Declares 1.4 Million Square Kilometer Marine Protected Area to the Pacific Oceanscape

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Published by on September 4, 2012 courtesy of Conservation International

The New Caledonia government last night announced its  intention to create a marine protected area (MPA) roughly half the size of India. It will cover 1.4 million square kilometres and is the first contribution to the Pacific Oceanscape by a Melanesian country or a French overseas territory.

“New Caledonia wishes to play its part in this process of international, regional and local engagement for the sustainable management of our ocean,” said the New Caledonia Government representative on behalf of President Harold Martin.

The marine protected area (MPA) encompasses the country’s 1.5 million hectare UNESCO World Heritage site, established in 2008, and recognises the lagoon’s exceptional beauty and rich sea life, state of conservation and diversity of underwater landscapes. The MPA is the second significant commitment by New Caledonian authorities to sustainably manage their marine resources.

The Government representative said his government was inspired by the vision behind Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area and the Cook Islands Marine Park and was determined to make its own contribution to the Pacific Oceanscape, to sustainably manage its maritime space in way that strengthened regional co-operation. New Caledonia wants to create a vast protected marine area adjacent to other Coral Sea coastal states. Australia protected the section of Coral Sea off its north-east coast in June 2012.

Fairy Tern © Mike Hunter, from the surfbirds galleries.

Pacific Island nations, through the Pacific Oceanscape, are recognising the importance of embracing their blue homelands, the area over which they have jurisdiction from shore out to 200 nautical miles. It is a moment in time to protect the assets so easily destroyed but, with care, can be maintained as enduring sources of prosperity.

Leaders from the 16 member countries of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat have gathered in Rarotonga as the Forum holds its 43rd annual meeting, this year with the declared theme: Large Ocean States – The Pacific Challenge. The combined exclusive economic zones (EEZs) of Forum members cover close to eight per cent of the planet’s surface and 10 per cent of its oceans.

The New Caledonia announcement is the first contribution Forum members are expected to make to the Pacific Oceanscape during the coming week. These commitments are poised to further cement the role of Pacific Island nations as world leaders in innovative large-scale ocean management.

Conservation International (CI) has worked with governments and communities of the Pacific Ocean for more than 15 years, contributing to the design of several large-scale marine conservation efforts, including the Eastern Tropical Pacific Seascape, Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area and the Pacific Oceanscape. CI’s Pacific team has been supporting New Caledonia in its conservation efforts for several years and is an advisor on the development and design of its contribution to the Coral Sea Marine Protected Area.

“C’est magnifique’ said CI Chairman Peter Seligman who was in Rarotonga this week to discuss the development of the Pacific Oceanscape with Pacific leaders. “This is the largest commitment to the Oceanscape and demonstrates an enlightened self-interest that benefits all humanity.”

National Geographic explore-in-residence and oceanographer Dr Sylvia Earle, also in Rarotonga advocating the protection of vast tracts of ocean, said there were plenty of reasons why people could despair about the state of the world’s oceans but that this is a magic time, a sweet spot where humans can make a difference.

‘This is the time for Oceans as never before because we didn’t know, didn’t understand or have enough information to value the blue part of the planet. This is now possible. Never again will there be a chance as opportune as now. It’s not too late to restore and protect coral reefs that in my life time have been reduced by half. It’s not too late to restore and protect sharks, depleted by 90 per cent in my lifetime, mostly in the last 30 years. It’s not too late to prevent the spread of dead zones that blight coastal areas globally. It’s not too late for nations to work together where their blue homelands meet with policies that are mutually beneficial. New Caledonia is doing just this. Such actions can inspire others to take the long view about the benefits of working together to protect the natural world that gives so much to all of us.  Having Pacific leaders gather here to consider how to collaborate for mutual benefit is a source of inspiration to the world.

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