In 2015, the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau – smaller than New York City -- set aside 193,000 square miles of ocean for a marine reserve, allowing no fishing or mining in the area. While Palau is smaller than New York City, the protected area is larger than California.
In 2016, the UK created a similar reserve around Pitcairn Island, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame. The island, home to only 50 people, now has a protected area of 320,465 square miles, larger than Turkey.
The newest reserve – confirmed in a referendum in September 2017 -- is around Rapa Nui (Easter Island) owned by Chile. This area is 286,000 square miles, larger than France.
Between 2015 and 2017, more ocean – all in the Pacific -- was protected by newly created marine reserves than ever before.
Why should we care?
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), oceans are of tremendous importance:
Oceans store more than 90% of the carbon dioxide on the planet.
They remove 30% of newly created carbon dioxide.
They provide critical food supplies to many people.
Barrier ecosystems (such as coral reefs or mangrove forests) help protect the land from natural disasters.
But the pressure on oceans is also tremendous:
More than 60% of people live on or near a coast.
Some 80% of tourism is in coastal areas.
Close to 25% of fishing in developing countries occurs near coral reefs.
This is not even counting the garbage and pollution that we humans pour into it every day.
How do marine reserves help?
They protect key ecosystems, such as coral reefs, which are nurseries for young fish and other species – and they attract tourism, providing jobs and income for local people.
More than 70% of the world's fisheries are in trouble. No-fishing areas allow small fish to grow and reproduce, ultimately improving fishing for everyone.
They protect biodiversity and allow threatened species to reproduce in safety. They are critically important for conservation and sustainable development.
Unfortunately, at this point only about 1% of the ocean is protected – but these new marine reserves are steps in the right direction.