National Geographic News
An aerial view of islands in the Republic of Palau.

Palau's new marine sanctuary will encompass 80 percent of the island nation's waters.


Brian Clark Howard

National Geographic

Published June 17, 2014

By the close of a two-day conference in Washington on the world's oceans, five nations had pledged to extend marine protections to cover more than a million square miles.

The United States, Palau, the Cook Islands, and the Bahamas unveiled their plans on Tuesday, following Kiribati's announcement Monday that commercial fishing would end in the vast marine reserves in its Pacific Ocean territory by the end of the year.

"We need to do more, but that is a great start," U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told the heads of state, nonprofit leaders, scientists, and industry representatives from 80 countries at the Our Ocean conference.

Earlier Tuesday, U.S. President Barack Obama proposed an expansion of the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument in the central Pacific, from almost 87,000 square miles (225,000 square kilometers) to nearly 782,000 square miles (2 million square kilometers). (See: "Obama Announces Plan to Create World's Largest Ocean Reserve.")

The new Palau National Marine Sanctuary in the Pacific Ocean will protect 193,000 square miles (500,000 square kilometers), representing 80 percent of the country's exclusive economic zone, or the territorial waters that a nation controls.

"That's about the size of the great state of Texas," said the nation's president, Tommy Remengesau, Jr., who added that the new sanctuary would exclude all industrial-scale fishing and exports of catches.

The Cook Islands in the South Pacific announced an expansion of its ban on commercial fishing from 12 miles (19 kilometers) around each of the 15 islands to 50 miles (80 kilometers) around each island.

The island nation, which shares some government resources with New Zealand, had declared in 2012 that 424,000 square miles (1.1 million square kilometers)—a little more than half of its exclusive economic zone—would become a marine park.

But public pressure in the country resulted in the expansion of the park from the southern islands of the chain to include the northern islands as well, Elizabeth Wright-Koteka, the prime minister's chief of staff, told National Geographic.

"People in the north islands saw the benefits of the reserve, and they said, 'We want that too,'" Wright-Koteka said.

The Bahamas' minister of the environment and housing, Kenred Dorsett, said his country has committed to protecting 20 percent of its ocean territory by 2020, up from 3 percent today. The country designated 15 new marine protected areas earlier this year.

"Ninety-four percent of my country is comprised of the ocean," said Dorsett about the Bahamas, a chain of 700 islands in the Caribbean. "We are truly an ocean state."

Greens Respond

National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Sylvia Earle called the new reserves "big steps in the right direction." But, she said, "we need to do more."

Earle highlighted Palau's announced reserve as "based on sound science." She said the plan is smart to "allow a small amount of fishing in small areas and then protect the big areas."

Still, it remains to be seen how well the proposed reserves protect fish and the overall marine environment, she said. Many challenges remain, including enforcement and balancing fishing rights.

Marine scientist Amanda Keledjian of Oceana, an international nonprofit focused on ocean conservation, said the new marine reserves are "very significant" acts that "preserve biodiversity, large predators, and reefs."

Building on Science and Tradition

About his island nation's new reserve, Palau's Remengesau said, "We are not anti-fishing, we are pro-fishing sustainably."

Remengesau said he had been a fisherman, but has seen his country's stocks devastated by the international fishing industry.

Restrictions on its activities will allow those stocks to recover. And some of the fish in the protected areas, once their populations rebound, will "spill over" to areas that will still allow fishing.

The action is not without precedent, he noted. "Our ancestors called for a moratorium to ban fishing in certain segments if they saw fish stocks were decreasing."

In 2001, Palau was the first country to create a shark sanctuary. "It is working," Remengesau said. "Studies have shown that a live shark is worth much, much more than a dead shark, and the same goes for all species."

Wright-Koteka added that the Cook Islands government is looking at updating legislation that governs the country's huge marine park, with an eye toward streamlining administration and improving comprehensive management of the fish, water, and seafloor.

"We are under no illusions that this will be a straightforward journey, but we know if we can pull this off we will have created a groundbreaking plan that will safeguard the ocean," she said. "This will hopefully encourage other nations to follow."

Learn more about the Our Ocean conference:

Follow Brian Clark Howard on Twitter and Google+.

Lyn McNutt
Lyn McNutt

The new West Coast of the United States: From Alaska to Hawaii to Guam to Okinawa to Jeju, S. Korea.  It is all about expanding the "protected" areas across the pacific and into the Indian Ocean all the while encouraging military use of the areas.  This is a clever way of incorporating and expanding current military bases, and also mothballing older bases by placing them all under federal jurisdiction of these protected areas.  Creation of the "protected areas" is an existential joke unless military activities are banned and highly restricted.  You are deluding yourself if you think this is about the environment.

Eileen Natuzzi
Eileen Natuzzi

While I commend the Obama administration as well as Secretary Kerry on drawing attention to the need for healthy oceans there are flaws in President Obama's thinking on this marine preserve extension: Closing more US Pacific waters (from 50nm to the full EEZ of 200nm) will not fix ocean acidification, surface water warming, or nutrient pollution from rainwater run off.  All of these problems are without boundaries and the result of unmitigated climate change. By thoughtlessly eliminating a large area of the Pacific where highly migratory fish like tuna swim this executive order will not necessarily protect marine life but it will most definitely impact human life as economies and food sources are impacted. What really is at play here is preventing aggressive and harmful fishing practices that destroy reefs, deplete fish stocks and remove unintended species such as seabirds, sharks and sea-turtles via by-catch. All of these are the result of aggressive industrial and at times illegal fishing practices. These practices  can be negotiated with the Pacific Island Nations that surround the US Pacific area in order to limit illegal fishing, unregistered vessel intrusion, and over fishing through the use of FADs, longliners and bottom trawling. If the US wants healthy oceans then we need to court cooperation from our Pacific neighbors. I doing so  we will need to be prepared to make concessions in return. There are no free lunches…fish or otherwise.

Kate Johnson
Kate Johnson

Does anyone know if the National Geographic site has a feature where you can just print out the article that is being displayed? I need a few environmental articles for my AP class, and my teacher is very specific about just wanting the article, and not putting it into a word document. Thanks!

cheng pingyang
cheng pingyang

this is a good idea.i admire this kind of government,not like CHINA,full  bureaucratic.

the dirty air,wind of sand ,turbid water,i really hate.but the office just put the points into the economy,even though they now are realizing the bad effects that bring more and more harm to people.but the low efficiency cant make my dream true immidiately.this is the tragedy of the CHINESE

Tobias Schwebel
Tobias Schwebel

have a look at Palau - our world is such a beautiful place!!! it must be protected! i've read a quite interesting article a few days ago that says "The Republic of Palau is one of the world' most forward thinking countries when it comes to marine conservation." ( - all humankind should act that way! protect our world!


Marin Park, At Least It Creats Some Balance to the Earth And Earth's Environment; And Also A Step To The Healing Process Of Earth would have Start; Good Luck.

GB Hajim
GB Hajim

Somebody please inform the editors at National GEOGRAPHIC that the Bahamas are not in the Pacific. (More confirmation that the world is now run by idiots)

Sydney Tudela
Sydney Tudela

Nice..! & a star putting all his sweat, effort & money into it is an enormous big, BIG HELP..Thank you Mr. Hottie Leonardo D... :-) 

Om Prakash
Om Prakash

good steps towards conservation really! appreciated

Dr Lilliana Corredor
Dr Lilliana Corredor

Brilliant news. Finally people are awakening to the importance of marine protection… about time!

Alan Foster
Alan Foster

Bravo.  But the Cooks and Kirbati between them can barely protect a single island's fish stock.  They need fast patrol craft, satellite imaging, long-range patrol planes, and much more...or all the fine words will prove useless.

Lyn McNutt
Lyn McNutt

@Eileen Natuzzi Local fishers in Hawaii are NOT the problem.  Pollution, sewage in runoff, sediment on the reefs, diversion of fresh water, agrochemical monoculture on the land, damage caused by over population of invasive species (including pigs and goats)...these are the problems in Hawaii.  Until the military is banned from these areas, and until massive chemical agriculture and runoff are contained or curtailed, and fresh, clean water is once again allowed to flow on to the reefs and into the aquifer,  then this is all just a waste of time.  

Charlotte Rigby
Charlotte Rigby

@Kate Johnson Hi, I use a google chrome extension called awesome screenshot (you can find it in the chrome store, it's free) it allows you to capture both selected areas and the whole of a webpage. I'm using it for my a-level geography prep :) Hope this helps and sorry if it's too late

christopher ewing
christopher ewing

@GB Hajim  who cares if they aren't part of the pacific?  it didn't say ALL pacific and the Bahamas should be protecting their oceans with all the tourism there.  focus on the important part.  a lot of the world's oceans will be protected.  save the technicalitites for another time

Emily Chang
Emily Chang

@GB Hajim The reserves, as in the area the Bahamas seek to protect, are lovated in the Pacific. Though the title is vague, the second sentence, otherwise known as the second paragraph clearly states so. 


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