The Natural Park of the Coral Sea is the world’s largest protected marine-managed area, but sustainable businesses can make money if they work alongside conservationists. Giles Crosse reports
The semi-independent French territory of New Caledonia has set up the world’s largest marine managed area, a 1.3 million km2 which includes the second longest double barrier reef and the world’s largest marine lagoon.
The move is groundbreaking. In contrast to conventional parks, a multi-use marine park allows economic activities like fishing or mining, but in a supervised way. Sustainable businesses can work alongside long-term resource conservation, marrying the protection of our seas with corporate needs. It is, however, a challenge to monitor the resources, while utilising them profitably.
The Natural Park of the Coral Sea is an offshoot of the Pacific Oceanscape movement, which was conceived by Kiribati President Anote Tong in 2009. Oceanscape is a collaboration between 16 Pacific Island nations, including New Caledonia, to sustainably manage nearly 40 million km2 of the Pacific Ocean.
“We expect more of the 16 committed island nations in the Oceanscape project to follow suit in protecting large swathes of their ocean, cementing the role of Pacific Island nations as leaders in innovative large-scale ocean management, ” said Luca Budello, who heads up Shallow Waters, an NGO delivering solutions to fisheries management.
Budello says the Natural Park of the Coral Sea is an ambitious initiative on several counts. “It represents the largest MPA in the world, but it also signals the world’s largest ever integrated conservation and ocean management initiative.”
The blue ‘economy’
There is a lot at stake, including the future of the area’s inhabitants and businesses. “Innovation in conservation finance to grow the island ‘blue economy’ is paramount,” said Budello. “Enforcement of these management plans will determine whether this initiative will just increase the amount of protected ocean without any real benefit, or set an example for the future of marine natural resourcemanagement.”
There is evidence, too, that MPAs can create economic benefits for local people by sustaining fish and other marine resources.Sarah Wilson, Co-founder of Shallow Waters, said: “The majority of coastal and island nations have felt the squeeze on their economies due to the decline of fish stocks over the past 20 to 30 years, and the science is increasingly showing how damaging the loss of marine environments and biodiversity, and the general disregard for the ocean landscape, is.”
‘Caledonia is setting an example. So little of our oceans are protected compared to reserves on land, and this must be addressed to prevent irreparable loss of marine species,’ Sarah Wilson
Wilson said that such large-scale initiatives were vital. “The stresses on the world’s oceans have already caused the potential collapse of a huge number of species, and even entire ecological processes such as ocean acidification,” she said.
Wilson says action must be taken to ensure the survival of coral reefs, the bedrock of the most economically valuable fish and invertebrate species. “New Caledonia is setting an example. So little of our oceans are protected compared to reserves on land, and this must be addressed on both national and international levels to prevent irreparable loss of marine species and numbers,” she said.
There is a stake for the corporate world too. Businesses need to think hard about how they can engage with Caledonia’s plans. Hard questions must be asked about sustainable fisheries, resource extraction and the involvement of local people.
Much of the world’s nickel is to be found in Caledonia, and demand for its extraction will continue. But for once, it is located within a conservation area that seeks to marry conservation with businesses rather than divorcing them.