UNDP Pacific (Suva, Fiji) The tiny Pacific island country of Niue is now in the global big leagues of marine conservation. At the Our Ocean Conference in Malta on 5 October, the government of Niue announced its decision to create a large-scale marine protected area (LSMPA) encompassing 40 percent of the country's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
The LSMPA of about 127,000 square kilometres will include the coastal waters of Niue and nearby Beveridge Reef, an uninhabited, semi-submerged atoll within Niue’s waters that is home to the world's highest density of grey reef sharks. Once established, the area will be the 28th largest in the world, but in terms of proportion of EEZ protected, it will rank second only to Palau with 80 percent. This initiative represents a major contribution by Niue to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 14, specifically its target 14.5, which aims to place 10 percent of the ocean under some form of protection by 2020.
The commitment also reflects the investment and sustainable practice of the Niuean people for many hundreds of years. As emphasized by Niue Premier Sir Toke Talagi: “This commitment is not a sacrifice, it is an investment in the certainty and stability of our children’s future. We simply cannot be the generation of leaders who have taken more than they have given to this planet, and left behind a debt that our children cannot pay. Climate change, plastic rubbish, pollution, overfishing – these are all debt collectors we cannot out-run. Our ocean needs to heal – it is not rocket science – she just needs the space and time to do it.”
Lizbeth Cullity, Resident Representative of the UNDP Multi-country Office for Cook Islands, Niue, Samoa and Tokelau, added: “Niue’s declaration to make 40% of its EEZ as a large-scale Marine Protected Area is a remarkable achievement. This confirms Niue’s commitment to ocean conservation. UNDP-GEF through our Ridge to Reef project will continue to support this initiative by providing technical assistance for further research and development of applicable legislation and management plans; as well as facilitating community participation to ensure the sustainability of the MPA.”
Niue’s commitment is supported by a number of partners, including the Niue Ocean Wide (NOW) project, National Geographic Society, Tofia Niue, a local non-profit organization, and the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Project “Application of Ridge to Reef Concept for Biodiversity Conservation, and for the Enhancement of Ecosystem Services and Cultural Heritage”. The GEF/UNDP project, also referred to as Niue R2R, is a multi-year and multimillion-dollar support to the government of Niue to expand the coverage and improve the management of marine protected areas focusing on its coastal waters and the Beveridge Reef.
The LSMPA and associated detailed arrangements are expected to be finalized over the coming three years to ensure that it is robust, enforceable and sustainable. As part of the LSMPA protection, Niue intends to “lock up” a proportion of its fishing effort for conservation – a policy action that is possibly one of a kind globally. The government of Niue hopes that other countries will take a similar approach and together contribute to an overall reduction of global fishing effort, advancing SDG 14.4 at a critical time of increasingly overexploited fish stocks and the compounding pressures of climate change, ocean acidification and pollution on the ocean environment. These follow-up efforts will continue to be supported by the UNDP/GEF Niue R2R project together with other partners.