The tiny island nation of Kiribati announced the creation of the world's third-largest marine protected area at a UN-sponsored environmental conference in Brazil, according to regional officials.
The protected area at the Phoenix Islands, located about half way between Fiji and Hawaii, places some 184,700km2 off limits for commercial fishing, protecting precious coral reefs and undersea mountains.
The restrictions covering an area greater than the size of Ireland were announced on Tuesday by Martin Puta Toginfa, minister of environment, lands and agricultural development of the Republic of Kiribati, at the eighth biannual Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity in Curitiba, 650km southwest of Rio de Janeiro.
“If the coral and reefs are protected, then the fish
will thrive and grow and bring us benefit,” said
Kiribatian President Anote Tong.
Tong said his nation, the Federated States of
Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands
would work to protect 30 percent of the nearshore
marine areas and 20 percent of land resources on
islands by 2020.
In total, that area could cover 6.7 million square kilometers or roughly 5 percent of the Pacific ocean, said Joel Miles of Palau's Environmental Response office.
Russell Mittermaier, president of Conservation International said the move was a "major milestone for marine conservation efforts."
"The Republic of Kiribati has shown unprecedented vision for long-term conservation of its precious marine biodiversity," Mittermaier said.
At the same conference, the EU called for a global moratorium on deep-sea trawling, labeling the random fishing practice harmful to the biodiversity of oceans.
Bottom trawling is blamed for depleting the world's deep-sea fish stocks, threatening many species with extinction and radically altering undersea habitats.
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas called for "an interim prohibition of destructive fishing practices in international waters, including bottom trawling."
Environmentalists praised the two moves as indicative of a growing trend toward protecting the world's oceans.
"These are very positive signs," said Arlo Hemphill, Conservation International's manager of marine strategy.
"Bottom trawling is like trying to capture songbirds in the forest with bulldozers," he said. "You're after a target deep sea fish, but basically you're mowing down these deep sea corals" and everything else.
Hemphill said many of the damaged reefs are thousands of years old and the fish that the trawlers seek can be up to 250 years old.
"You could be eating a fish that was born at the time of Napoleon," Hemphill said.
The protected area in the Phoenix Islands would contain a near pristine coral archipelago and would be the first marine protected area in the region with deep sea habitat, including underwater mountains.
Under an agreement worked out with New England Aquarium and Conservation International, the government of Kiribati would be compensated for the loss of fishing revenue with funds from a special endowment.
"This trend toward creating large marine management areas is increasing," Roger McManus of Conservation International said by telephone from Washington.
While 12 percent of the Earth's land surface enjoys some form of environmental protection, the same is true for only 0.5 percent of the world's oceans.