Tiny Island Chain Wants To Create The World’s Largest Ocean Sanctuary

In an effort to protect fisheries and preserve one of the planet’s healthiest marine ecosystems, communities in a remote archipelago south of Tahiti are working to establish the largest fully protected marine reserve on the planet.

The proposal, which municipalities in the Austral Islands presented to the French Polynesian government on Monday, would ban fishing in more than 385,000 square miles of ocean surrounding the island chain and establish sustainable coastal fishing areas around each of its five inhabited islands.

The Pew Charitable Trusts, which helped the communities draft their proposal, said in an announcement on Tuesday that islanders hope the reserve will “help maintain healthy fish stocks to feed their families and support local fishermen while maintaining Polynesian customs that date back hundreds of years.”

The reserve, if approved, would be roughly the size of California, Nevada and Arizona combined.

Jérôme Petit, director of Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy campaign in French Polynesia, told The Huffington Post that the 6,000-plus residents of Rimatara, Rurutu, Tubuai, Raivavae and Rapa are concerned about the environmental damage affecting the world’s fisheries.

“They say, ‘We fish now in one day what we could fish 20 years ago in one hour,'” Petit said.

The reserve would extend roughly 200 nautical miles around each island, with the exception of the islands’ northern coasts. Sustainable coastal fishing areas extending 20 miles from each island would allow local anglers to fish from boats that are less than 25 feet long, according to the proposal.

Petit told HuffPost that the “whole community is really on board” with the idea. The only opposition, he said, came from large fishing operations in Tahiti, which rarely fish in the area but voiced concerns that the reserve would prevent them from doing so in the future.

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