New Zealand on Monday unveiled a plan to create a massive marine sanctuary in the South Pacific Ocean in order to protect one of the world’s most pristine marine environments.
Prime Minister John Key said that the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary, which would encompass an area about the size of France and prohibit all fishing and mining, will be located about 620 miles off New Zealand’s northeastern coast. About 20 tons of fish are caught every year in the region, which is part of an Exclusive Economic Zone and already enjoys some levels of protection.
“The Kermadec ocean sanctuary will be one of the world’s largest and most significant fully-protected areas, preserving important habitats for seabirds, whales and dolphins, endangered marine turtles and thousands of species of fish and other marine life,” Key said, announcing the creation of the sanctuary at the United Nations in New York, according to the Guardian.
Among those who had lobbied for the creation of the protected zone were "Titanic" director James Cameron and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. The move was praised by environmental groups and local politicians alike.
"We congratulate the government for taking decisive action to protect this incredibly special area from mining and fishing," WWF New Zealand chief Chris Howe said, according to Agence France-Presse. "This decision puts New Zealand back at the forefront of marine protection on the global stage."
Eugeanie Sage, a spokeswoman for the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, also welcomed the announcement, saying: "We're delighted the Government has picked up the Kermadec ocean sanctuary concept that has been in a Green private member's Bill drafted by Gareth Hughes several years ago," according to Fairfax Media.
However, Sage added that Key’s government still had a “poor track record” on other issues.
"We've still got the Maui's Dolphins to protect, water quality to improve, and National is taking an embarrassingly weak proposal on limiting New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions to the Paris Climate Change Conference," she said, referring to the country's commitment to reduce emissions ahead of a global climate conference in December.
The Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary is set to be one of the world’s largest, and includes areas covering the second deepest ocean trench, the Tonga Trench, and a cluster of 30 underwater volcanoes. The area is home to about six million seabirds of 39 different species, over 150 species of fish, 35 species of whales and dolphins, and many other types of marine species including shellfish and crabs, many of which are endemic to the area.