After more than a year of debate that involved pressure from fishing and drilling lobbyists, the Micronesian dive destination of Palau has gone ahead to approve the creation of a marine sanctuary twice the size of Mexico
80% of the Nation’s Maritime Territory Designated as Sanctuary.
Palau’s national congress representing 21,000 people approved on October 22, 2015 the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Act, dedicating 80% of the nation’s maritime territory as a designated marine reserve.
“Today is a historic day for Palau, proving that a small island nation can have a big impact on the ocean,” said Tommy E Remengesau Jr.the country’s president, Local fishermen will still have access to about 20% of the sanctuary.
500,000 sq km (193,000 sq mile) Sanctuary
Conservationists said the 500,000 sq km (193,000 sq mile) sanctuary would be the world’s sixth-largest fully protected area – and protects over 80% of its Exclusive Economic Zone that reaches 200 miles beyond Palau’s borders. When it is signed by President Remengesau Jr.law, the law will ban industrial fishing, foreign fishing and exports, along with banning other uses such as drilling for oil –
Mr. Remengesau said his country will promote scuba diving, snorkelling and eco-tourism as an alternative income to commercial fishing.
“We’re not just closing our waters and throwing away the key,” he told a UN oceans conference last year.
“We’re closing our waters because we will do our part in making sure that there’s healthy stocks of fish in Palau that can migrate to other places, and that there are other options to grow the economy.”
“These are important ways to make a living and at the same time preserve the pristine environment that we have been blessed with in Palau.”
The move follows a string of announcements on new marine parks, by Chile, New Zealand and the UK, to protect vast swaths of oceans from overfishing.
1300 Species of Fish and 700 Species of Coral
The US-based Pew Charitable Trusts said Palau’s new sanctuary brought the total area of the oceans fully protected up to 1.9%, though scientists say that figure should be more like 30% to protect fish stocks and the health of the ocean.
Pew, which has supported the sanctuary, said there are more than 1,300 species of fish and 700 species of coral around Palau’s hundreds of tiny islands.