Island Nations of the South Pacific

Island Nations of the South Pacific

Case Study by: Austin Perez    

Some of the world’s smallest nations have collaborated in developing an extraordinary ocean conservation policy that has led to the establishment of the largest Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) ever created. The Pacific Oceanscape was an agreement endorsed by 15 Pacific island nations in 2009 that established a commitment towards aiming to protect 40 million square kilometers of the ocean ecosystems of the South Pacific. The tiny country of Kiribati was the first island nation to make a major addition to the Pacific Oceanscape by establishing the Phoenix Islands Protected Area in 2008, which protects about 400,000 km2 of the southern Pacific Ocean. In 2011, The Cook Islands followed suit by announcing that it will protect nearly 1.1 million km2 of its marine ecosystem by establishing a protected national marine park; and in 2012, New Caledonia proclaimed that it has created the largest Marine Protected Area in the world by establishing a protected area that will cover approximately 1.4 million km2.

The Pacific Oceanscape agreement set forth an extremely ambitious goal to protect approximately 10% of the world’s ocean area, and Kiribati, the Cook Islands, and New Caledonia have become leaders in turning the vision of the Pacific Oceanscape into a reality. By endorsing the goals and vision of the Pacific Oceanscape, the island nations of the South Pacific have demonstrated a spectacular commitment to marine conservation and to the establishment of conservation policies that will help defend the incredible reef ecosystems and marine biodiversity of the southern Pacific Ocean. By establishing the world’s largest region of Marine Protected Areas and striving to protect up to 40 million km2 of the Pacific Ocean, the collaborative effort of the island nations of the South Pacific is an excellent representation of the goals and objectives of Nature Needs Half.

Pacific Oceanscape Map © Conservation International 

The vision for the Pacific Oceanscape was first developed by the tiny nation of Kiribati, a Pacific island nation whose terrestrial area is about half the size of London. Kiribati established the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) in 2008, which created a Marine Protected Area covering about 400,000 km2. Following the successful establishment of PIPA, Kiribati’s President Anote Tong conceived the idea of establishing the Pacific Oceanscape, which he presented with the support of Conservation International at The Pacific Islands Forum in 2009. The idea behind the Pacific Oceanscape was based upon the notion that although the island nations of the South Pacific may be very small in terms of total land area, they nonetheless have the capability to have a major impact on ocean conservation and stewardship. The Exclusive Economic Zones of the 15 island nations that have endorsed the Pacific Oceanscape cover approximately 40 million km2, which is about 10% of world’s ocean surface. United by the goal of creating a cooperative strategy for positive marine conservation stewardship in the South Pacific, the Pacific Oceanscape was unanimously endorsed by the heads of state and governments of the 15 participating island nations. Kiribati’s first major addition to the Pacific Oceanscape (PIPA, 2008) was the world’s largest Marine Protected Area in the world at the time of its establishment. In 2011 and 2012, the Cook Islands and New Caledonia have followed Kiribati’s lead, and have made massive additions to the Pacific Oceanscape by creating what are now the world’s two largest Marine Protected Areas.

Pacific Culture Areas Map © Wikipedia Commons

The Cook Islands is a very small nation that is comprised of 15 islands with a total land area of only 240 km2. However, the Cook Islands has a massive Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) surrounding the country that covers 1.8 million kmof the Pacific Ocean. By creating a 1.1 million kmnational marine park in 2011, the Cook Islands has developed a policy that will provide protection for over 60% of the ocean ecosystem within the country’s EEZ. “The Pacific Ocean is source of life for us. This is our contribution not only to our own wellbeing, but also to humanity’s wellbeing,” said the Cook Islands’ Prime Minister Henry Puna. The Cook Islands Marine Park will be zoned for multiple uses including tourism, fishing, and potentially deep-sea mining, but only if these activities can be carried out in a sustainable manner. In addition to the newly established national marine park, the Cook Islands has also announced that it has created the world’s largest shark sanctuary. The Cook Islands has designated its entire EEZ as a shark sanctuary, thereby banning fishing for all shark species and providing a 1.8 million kmof protected ocean area for sharks.

New Caledonia announced in 2012 that it will be establishing the world’s largest Marine Protected Area that will cover approximately 1.4 million km2, an ocean area about half the size of India. New Caledonia’s MPA will include the protection of the world’s largest lagoon, which covers over 24,000 km2. “New Caledonia wishes to play its part in this process of international, regional, and local engagement for the sustainable management of our ocean,” said a New Caledonia Government representative on behalf of President Harold Martin. Included within the newly established MPA is the New Caledonia Barrier Reef, which is the second largest barrier reef in the world. New Caledonia’s Marine Protected Area will be directly adjacent to the 1 million kmof protected ocean that Australia has established in the Coral Sea, thereby creating a vast contiguous addition to the protected marine ecosystems of the Pacific Oceanscape.

The Pacific Oceanscape encompasses some of the most pristine and biologically diverse marine ecosystems in the world. The marine ecosystems within the EEZ’s of the pacific island nations consist of pristine coral reef atolls, biologically rich lagoons, and extremely productive fisheries. The Pacific Oceanscape is home to the world’s largest remaining stock of tuna, and provides about one-third of the global tuna catch. Countless other marine species also thrive within the marine ecosystems of the South Pacific. Dugongs, green sea turtles, multiple species of sharks, several species of whales and dolphins, the Nautilus macromphalus, and the world’s highest diversity of sea snails all reside within the waters of the Pacific Oceanscape. The sustainable management plan established under the Pacific Oceanscape agreement not only calls for the sustainable use of the ocean’s resources and the designation of MPAs, it also aims to promote the creation of specified sanctuaries in the South Pacific for turtle, whale, shark, and dolphin species. By aiming to protect the ocean resources and species of the South Pacific, the member countries of the Pacific Oceanscape have taken a major step towards ensuring that the rich biodiversity of the marine ecosystems of the South Pacific will continue to thrive for many generations to come.

The Pacific Oceanscape agreement has provided a revolutionary vision for ocean conservation. By promoting the cooperation of neighboring nations within the South Pacific eco-region, the Pacific Oceanscape has been able to create a blueprint for a collaborative effort that could be able to formally protect up to 10% of the world’s ocean area. Kiribati, the Cook Islands, and New Caledonia have established themselves as leaders of the Pacific Oceanscape initiative by creating some of the world’s largest Marine Protected Areas. Optimism is now growing that the other member nations of the Pacific Oceanscape will follow the lead of Kiribati, the Cook Islands, and New Caledonia and establish their own Marine Protected Areas to help contribute towards the goal of protecting 40 million km2 of ocean area in the South Pacific. The vision set forth in the Pacific Oceanscape agreement is a perfect exemplification of the goals and ambitions of Nature Needs Half to promote collaborative efforts for the formal protection of connected areas of wild nature.

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