French Polynesian Government Proposes Creation of World's Largest Marine Sanctuary

First Posted: Apr 06, 2016 01:02 PM EDT

An ocean sanctuary is being planned to be established by communities in a secluded island south of Tahiti. The project aims to conserve one of the healthiest marine ecosystems in the planet.

The proposal on the ocean sanctuary was presented to the government on Monday, April 6. Once approved, fishing would be banned in the surrounding ocean more than 385,000 square miles around the island chain. Sustainable fishing areas will be established as well as around the five inhabited islands.

Rāhui Nui Nō Tuhaa Pae is the proposed name for the sanctuary which means "the big rāhui of the Austral Islands." The name is a reference to rāhui, a traditional Polynesian practice which includes restricting access to conserve a resource.

The Austral Islands houses 455 species of mollusks, 98 of which are endemic. Numerous species of rays, sharks, fish, and coral can also be found there. If the marine reserve is designated, the commitment to conserve at least 20 percent of its waters by 2020 would be fulfilled by the French Polynesia.

Like New Zealand's Kermadec sanctuary, the proposed sanctuary faces opposition. Large fishing companies in Tahiti seldom operate in the area, but nonetheless voiced out concerns about being prevented to do so in the future. It has been stated in the proposal that fishes caught in Austral waters account to less than 2 percent of the overall catch of French Polynesia. This means that the reserve would not greatly impact commercial fishing operations.

New Zealand's ocean sanctuary, Kermadec, is the third largest protected reserve in the world. At the moment, the largest sanctuary is the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific Ocean, measuring 322,000 square miles. If approved, the reserve in the Austral Islands would be larger by 63,000 square miles. It will be roughly the same size as Nevada, California, and Arizona combined.

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