The government of a tiny island in the Pacific passed legislation on Thursday making nearly all of its coastal waters a marine sanctuary. The Palau National Marine Sanctuary Act, which will be signed into law next week, makes 80 percent of the country’s littorals a fully protected marine reserve, free from fishing and mining.
The sanctuary covers more than 193,000-square-miles (larger than the US state of California) and will become the sixth-largest fully protected marine reserve in the world. Any illegal fishing in the area will be countered by tough new regulations.
Some 20 percent of the island’s waters will be reserved for local fishing vessels and domestic commercial fishing operations, with foreign commercial fishing operations being phased out over the next five years.
"We want to lead the way in restoring the health of the ocean for future generations," President Tommy Remengesau Jr said in a statement, according to AP.
Palau, which created the world's first shark sanctuary in 2009 to protect the myriad species that swim in its waters, sits 600 miles east of the Philippines and is made up of 250 islands with a population of around 20,000.
Plans are afoot for an even larger sanctuary to be established by the British government around the Pitcairn Islands, also in the Pacific. Westminster is to designate the region a Marine Protected Area, as outlined in budget documents released in March. Once implemented, restrictions will be imposed on a 322,000-square-mile area around Pitcairn its three sister islands, which boasts a wealth of marine life, including coral reefs.
Last month, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key told the UN general assembly in New York that an ocean sanctuary would also be established around the Kermadecs, creating another fully protected ecosystem around the island north of the country's North Island.