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Kiribati Closes Vast Swath of Ocean to Fishing

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Jun 17, 2014 10:27 AM EDT
Ocean diversity
The simpler a marine organism is structured, the better equipped it is for survival during climate change, according to scientists behind a new meta-study. (Photo : Pixabay)

A vast portion of the Pacific Ocean - controlled by the tiny island nation of Kiribati - will be protected with a commercial fishing ban so that its diverse populations of marine life can recover and repopulate.

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The massive marine park is about the size of the state of California and falls under the care of the small island chain that makes up the nation of Kiribati.

A declaration, made by Kiribati's President Anote Tong on Monday at the Our Ocean conference hosted by the United States in Washington D.C., says that all commercial fishing will be banned in Kiribati's Phoenix Islands Protected Area and the water that extends around the southern Line Islands. This ban is slated to go into full effect January 1, 2015.

However, this isn't the first time Kiribati has made impressive claims in the name of conservation. Back in 2006, the island nation first outlined the region of pristine coral reef archipelagos in the Pacific as the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.

This 164,200-square-mile marine park is one of the largest protected areas in the world. However, while Tong had publically said eight years ago that the whole protected area would be off limits to fishing, only a reserve that made up three percent of the marine park was actually under Kiribati protection, with the rest of the vast region being fair game for industrial fishing, according to National Geographic.

Still, things might be different now. Marine explorer Enric Sala of the island chain led the first expedition of the southern Line Islands' waters back in 2009, finding that the region was unbelievably diverse, with an exciting competitive predator population.

According to the expert, Tong is now expanding the truly protected region at least to the 12 nautical miles off the southern Line Islands - a "great first step" in the right direction, according to Sala.

"If you think of the ocean as a bank account in which everybody withdraws but nobody makes a deposit, then protected marine reserves are like savings accounts that produce interest," Sala said at the Monday conference.

This is part of a larger global initiative hosted by the United States this year to "develop a plan that protects more marine habitats," as called for by John Kerry at the Our Ocean conference. Currently, he noted, less than two percent of the ocean is protected from overfishing and other destructive actions.

You can watch a live stream of the conference at the US Department of State YouTube channel.

This announcement coincides with a proposal made by US President Obama to place an even larger portion of the Pacific under protection.

 

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