new_caledonia_marine protected area, eco-tourism, sustainable fishing, sustainable practices, marine conservation, marine sanctuary(Blue Ocean Network.com – June 12, 2014) — New Caledonia, has established the planet’s largest marine protected area. The small island chain located in the South Pacific has set aside 1.3 million square kilometers (more than 320 million acres) the largest wilderness preserve on land or sea anywhere on the planet. Twice the size of Texas the marine sanctuary is three times the size of Germany .

 

Le Parc Naturel de la Mer de Corail

Or the “Natural Park of the Coral Sea,” this newly established sanctuary is home to a wide spectrum of wildlife, with coral reefs covering more than 1.1 million acres, 19 species of nesting birds, 25 species of marine mammals, five species of sea turtles and 48 shark species.

“This is a monumental decision for New Caledonia and the entire Pacific,” says David Emmett, of  Conservation International’s Asia-Pacific program, “Such a measure exemplifies what other countries in the Pacific can do to fully invest in the long-term health and productivity of their ocean resources.”

The Natural Park of the Coral Sea is located 2,000 miles east of Australia, and covers all of New Caledonia’s exclusive economic zone with it’s marine waters extending up to 200 nautical miles beyond the islands’ coasts. The park should be a bonus for New Caledonian’s eco-tourism in addition to protecting the coral reefs, and fish that are vital to the local economy.

the World’s Richest Biodiversity

According to the Lonely Planet Guide, New Caledonia contains the Earth’s richest biodiversity and has the Earth’s second longest double barrier reef and largest coastal lagoon, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Still a French territory, since 1999, New Caledonia has gradually been transferring goverance to local leaders. It was President Harold Martin, who established the new park by legislative decree.The concept for the Park was announced in 1012 and brought to completion with the help of scientists and other experts.

The establishment of the park and its size sets an international example as well as showing the advantages of acting proactively to preserve the country’s marine heritage and not waiting until these assets are seriously compromised.

“There are no existing major threats — mostly illegal fishing,” says Lefeuvre, who directs Conservation International’s New Caledonia program. “In the near future, however, an increase in ship traffic coming in and out of Queensland, Australia, will heighten the risk of collision. In addition, the recent deep-sea oil and mining potential may affect the integrity of nature and ecosystem services in the Coral Sea.”

The next step will be to determine logistical details and management strategies, Lefeuvre states. As a multiple-use protected area, there is the need to balance the needs for economic activities like fishing, with appropriate protection levels.

“New Caledonians have always understood how much we depend upon nature — especially our oceans,” Lefeuvre says. “The careful and thoughtful management of natural resources is essential to long-term human well-being. This legislation sends a powerful message that investing in the value nature can provide is the basis for a healthy and sustainable society.”

Image Courtesy: NASA/USGS