Niue is not a big place. In fact, at 261 square kilometres, this raised atoll 2,400km north-east of New Zealand is one of the smaller Pacific island states. But it’s just become a giant in the world of marine conservation.
By designating all of its 317,000 square kilometre territorial waters as a maritime conservation area, Niue is way ahead of most other nations in protecting the ocean environment. Currently, only around 7% of the world’s oceans have such protection.
The designation of an area of sea roughly the size of Norway 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.
Niue’s marine park has been made possible by what the government says is a unique public-private partnership called Niue Ocean Wide (NOW), led by local non-profit organisation Tofia Niue.
Only sustainable local fishing will be permitted within the island’s exclusive economic zone 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”.
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’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 also one of the few places on Earth where humans are permitted to swim with whales.
As well as whales, Niue has the highest density of grey reef sharks in the world. Their future and all of Niue’s marine species will be protected by Global Fishing Watch, which uses satellite imagery and machine learning to identify and monitor vessels in the Niue marine park.
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.
Fish Decision Week
The first week of June 2022 has been named “Fish Decision Week” as members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) prepare for a summit that will discuss curbing the $22 billion paid globally in public subsidies to fishing.
Its “public monies that should be spent on sustainable development of coastal communities, rather than enabling industrial fishing fleets to unsustainably deplete the ocean’s resources”, according to Peter Thomson, co-chair of the Forum’s Friends of Ocean Action and UN Special Envoy for the Ocean.
The WTO summit in Geneva is the culmination of two decades of negotiations about fishing subsidies during which time the proportion of global fish stocks being overfished has risen from 25% to over 34%, said Thomson.
“Scientists have calculated that removing harmful fisheries subsidies could increase fish biomass by 12.5% by 2050,” he added. “Think of that as 35 million tonnes of fish contributing to the mitigation of hunger and restoration of marine biodiversity.”
Lewis Pugh, UN Patron of the Oceans and a former Forum Young Global Leader, whose ocean swims draw attention to the “perfect storm” of climate change, overfishing and plastic pollution affecting oceans, says 30% of the seas should be marine protected areas.