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Niue, a small Pacific island protects 100% of its territorial waters

by Daria Blackwell 12 Jun 02:17 UTC

Niue covers only 261 square kilometres but possesses 317,000 square kilometres of territorial water. It has become a world leader in marine conservation.

A unique private-public partnership called Niue Ocean Wide (NOW), led by local non-profit organisation Tofia Niue, will protect an area of ocean the size of Norway or Vietnam. This raised atoll 2,400km north-east of New Zealand is one of the smaller Pacific island states, but it has just become a giant in the world of marine conservation. By designating in April 2022 all of its 317,000 square kilometre territorial waters as a maritime conservation area, Niue is ahead of most other nations in protecting the ocean environment.

The Niue Nukutuluea Multiple-Use Marine Park sets aside 100% of Niue's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ and Territorial seas). Only sustainable local fishing will be permitted within the island's EEZ and NOW says the project "reflects Niue's ancestral tradition of taking only what is needed from the ocean to sustain life and ensure continued abundance for future generations".

Currently, only around 7% of the world's oceans have such protection. The designation of this area of ocean as a marine park follows a decision by the nearby Cook Islands to set up a marine protected area in their territorial waters in 2017, safeguarding 1.9 million square kilometres of the Pacific Ocean. In contrast, just 0.3% of Atlantic ocean off the US coast is protected.

The new marine park will protect a unique environment which is the only habitat anywhere in the world for the katuali, a venomous sea snake that can grow up to a metre in length and lives in the island's many sea caves. Niue has the highest density of grey reef sharks in the world. Niue's protected waters are also part of the South Pacific breeding grounds for humpback whales, which migrate from the Antarctic to give birth. Niue is one of the few places on Earth where humans are permitted to swim with whales.

The World Economic Forum's New Nature Economy Report II: The Future of Nature and Business said that marine conservation areas, in which fishing is restricted and sustainably managed, could be conducive to a healthy and productive ocean.

As Niue has no navy, it is reliant on other countries to police its waters. Tonga, Samoa and the Cook Islands carry out annual surveillance operations and the New Zealand air force flies over the protected zone twice a year to look for signs of illegal fishing. The future of Niue's marine species also will be protected by Global Fishing Watch, which uses satellite imagery and machine learning to identify and monitor vessels in the Niue marine park.

Anyone caught breaching Niue's marine park laws and fishing illegally can have their vessel and catch seized, and receive a fine of up to NZ$500,000 (£255,000). If the government believes the crime should face a harsher penalty, it can prosecute.

It may certainly prove to be a challenge for Niue's 1700 inhabitants to protect this vast reserve. At least they have set out definitive goals. It is hoped that technological advances will enable better future protection for Niue's and the world's sensitive and productive seas.

This article has been provided by the courtesy of Ocean Cruising Club.

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