Pacific nation of Palau making most of its seas a sanctuary

TOKYO (AP) — Lawmakers in the tiny Pacific island nation of Palau passed a law Oct. 22 to make almost all its coastal waters a marine sanctuary in the latest move to expand ocean protections.

The Palau National Marine Sanctuary Act designates 80 percent of the nation’s maritime territory as a fully protected marine reserve in which no extractive activities, such as fishing or mining, can take place.

At 500,000 square kilometers (193,000 square miles), the sanctuary will be the sixth-largest fully protected marine area in the world.

The measure also seeks to prevent illegal fishing by tightening rules for vessels passing through Palau’s waters.

About 20 percent of Palau’s waters will be reserved as a domestic fishing zone for local fishermen and small-scale commercial fisheries with limited exports. There will be a five-year transition as the number of commercial licenses issued to foreign commercial fishing vessels will be reduced and phased out.

The country created the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, but until recently had only one patrol boat to help protect its great hammerheads, leopard sharks and more than 130 other species of shark and rays from extinction.

Earlier this year the government set fire to several vessels caught fishing illegally to underscore its commitment to protecting its seas.

New commitments made this year would protect more than 2.5 million square kilometers of the world’s ocean territory.

Britain plans to establish the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve in the South Pacific. On Sept. 28, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key announced plans for a fully protected ocean sanctuary in the Kermadecs, about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) northeast of his country’s North Island.

Earlier this month, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet promised to support efforts by the indigenous Rapa Nui community of Easter Island to create a fully protected marine park.

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