The Pacific island nation of Palau, just east of Indonesia and the Philippines, announced its plan to designate 193,000 square miles of nearby ocean territory to be a fully protected marine reserve. The news comes at a pivotal time of concern for Earth’s oceans and joins numerous other landmark preservation efforts just this year. In fact, there has been more square footage of ocean territory protected in 2015 than any other year – totaling over one million square feet. It seems we’re finally catching up with amending, or at least slowing, the damage we are causing.
The Palau reserve ranks as the sixth largest reserve on Earth, with an area so vast it is larger than the US states Alaska and Texas, combined. The other protected waters proposed this year include Pitcairn Island Marine Reserve in the South Pacific, New Zealand’s Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, Chile’s Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park, and a huge Easter Island reserve (whose proposal is awaiting final authorization). The revered status of being protected waters means that the aquatic life is safe from fishing, drilling, dumping, and other exploitation. The Palau reserve alone will extend protection to a thousand species of fish and over 700 species of coral.
Interestingly, according to Pew Charitable Trusts, the United States has designated more protected oceanic areas than any other country. This is largely due to President Obama expanding the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument, which extended protections to almost 500,000 square miles of reserve. This action took place a few months after the first Our Ocean conference in June of 2014, which focused highly on correcting problems directly impacting aquatic life.
Palau’s announcement carries with it some impressive details. They will be protecting 80 percent of their surrounding ocean, leaving 20 percent for specified fishing practices. The news also adds value to the shark sanctuary established in 2009. Seeing as Palau relies heavily on tourism for its revenue, the marine reserve also promises an increase in vacationers eager to witness the protected wildlife. Whether for humanity’s sake or for profit’s, the decision to safeguard these waters is essential to the survival of our oceans.