Communities from the Austral Islands, a remote archipelago comprising of five inhabited islands south of Tahiti have announced they want to create what would become the World’s largest ocean sanctuary – 1 million square kilometres (386,000 square miles) around French Polynesia, 163,000 square kilometres (63,000 square miles) larger than the current largest sanctuary of United Kingdom’s Pitcairn Islands.
The community presented the proposal to the French Polynesian government, who in November 2013 committed to protecting at least 20 percent of the French territory’s waters by 2020. Not only would this enable a sustainable future for local fisheries and ecotourism but it would help support the unique culture of the Austral Islands and French Polynesian heritage.
The Austral islands are situated between a tropical zone and temperate zone and are a hot spot of marine biodiversity. They make up about 1/5th of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of French Polynesia and are home to numerous species of sharks, corals, turtles, rays, fish, and 98 endemic species of mollusc. The Pew Charitable Trusts conducted in-depth scientific research to analyse the relationship between the islands and life in the surrounding waters. Their findings are intended to serve as a knowledge base for both the local communities and government.
The proposed protected area would extend approximately 200 nautical miles around each of the islands and allow local anglers to fish in sustainable coastal fishing areas extending 20 miles from each island from boats less than 25 feet long.
The Pew Charitable Trusts also supported the communities in drafting the proposals and are confident that they will be accepted. This would be a huge accomplishment and reinforce the importance and essential role of science-based research and local actors for decision-makers.