What began in 2012 has come true. On April 30th, 2014, Conservation International announced in a press release that an area 1.3 million km squared is protected by the government of New Caledonia.

New Calendonia's coastal waters comprise the largest lagoon in the world and is home to the second-longest double-barrier coral reef.Multi Color CoralsBrocken Inaglory (Wikipedia) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The region is a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage Site known as The Lagoons of New Caledonia: Reef Diversity and Associated Ecosystems.

The lagoons of New Caledonia are
listed under these three UNESCO categories:

1) Superlative natural phenomena or natural beauty

2) Ongoing biological and ecological processes

3) Biological diversity and threatened species

The Lagoons of New Caledonia

The lagoons of New Caledonia
Credit: NASA/GSFC/METI/ERSDAC/JAROS, and U.S./Japan ASTER Science Team (Wikipedia) Public Domain

Backtracking to the 2012 press release by Conservation International, oceanographer Dr. Sylvia Earle reminded us:

1) It's not too late to restore coral reefs that have been reduced by half.

2) We can restore and protect sharks which have been depleted by 90% - mostly in the last 30 years. (And other species that also live in the area).

3) We can prevent the spread of dead zones that blight coastal areas globally. 

To get a better idea of the region, I used Google Maps to take a screenshot of the area. New Caledonia is a French region (a special collectivity of France) located in the southwest Pacific Ocean approximately 1,210 km east of Australia, northwest of New Zealand.

New Caledonia's Location

New Caledonia Google Map June 2nd 2014
Credit: Rose Webster

Prior to this legislation, 4% of France's marine waters were protected; now 16% of it is.

DugongJulien Willem (Wikipedia) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 UnportedThe great thing about this is that the area will be thoughtfully managed (incorporating best practices) to ensure the protection of species, their habitats, and ecosystems.

With legislation comes monitoring and preservation. 

Although the area is home to 23 species of birds not found anywhere else, vulnerable dugongs (right photo), and a nesting site of the endangered green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), zoning will be established for both conservation and economic development.

Green Sea Turtle (aka Pacific Green Turtle)

Chelonia mydas / Green turtle
Credit: Brocken Inaglory (Wikipedia) / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Every Country Should Do the Same as New Caledonia

Louisiana trawling landsat croppedUS Government Employee (Wikipedia) / Public DomainOne of the key reasons it's important for the rest of the world to follow suit is that marine ecosystems (which provide a crucial protein source to a billion people worldwide) are being destroyed.

What's worse, these areas are unable to recover.

The most destructive way we are losing vital sea life is because of a fishing method termed "bottom trawling."

In 2006, the UN Secretary General reported that 95% of damage to underwater seamount ecosystems (worldwide) is caused by deep sea bottom trawling. 

I was stunned to learn how much devastation bottom trawling causes when I viewed an 8:30 minute documentary presented by Sigourney Weaver in 2009 (shown next).

The Bottom Line: Presented by Sigourney Weaver

Ms. Weaver called on delegates of the UN to take immediate action to stop this destruction

The Truth and the Solutions

In a document by Save Our Seas foundation titled Threat 1: Overfishing, Pavan Sukhdev (who received the 2013 Gothenburg Award for Sustainable Development) has warned us: 

"We are in the situation where 40 years down the line we, effectively, are out of fish."

Also outlined in the document were these recommendations:

1) Limits must be imposed and enforced on fisheries to maintain marine life populations.

2) Fishing methods (like deep sea bottom trawling) must be made illegal or modified to limit bycatch to an acceptable percentage. Presently, about 27 million tonnes of marine life is thrown out (often cast overboard, dead or dying).

Shrimp trawling is responsible for 1/3 of the world's bycatch, yet only comprises 2% of all seafood.

3) Monitoring and policing of the fish and seafood trade. Much of the catch from pirate fishing still ends up being sold and consumed.

4) Marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs and spawning grounds, need legally enforceable protection. Worldwide, we need to expand MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) - the way New Caledonia has - where fishing is banned (i.e. no take areas) or restricted.

5) Consumers need to lower the demand for certain seafood by not purchasing threatened or declining species. And, I feel, we need seafood in the marketplace to be clearly identified as sustainably-sourced product.

How Fresh Are The Oceans? Purple-Blue Areas = Lower Salinity

Rainfall in Pacific tropical regions has resulted in fresher water

A Measure of Salt
Credit: NASA Earth Observatory on flickr / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

It's Not All Bad News

Last year, I wrote an article titled 2013 - International Year of Water Cooperation. During my research for it, I accessed a February 27th, 2013 press release titled: NASA’s Aquarius Sees Salty Shifts.

Principal investigator Gary Lagerloef, of Earth & Space Research, noted, "With a bit more than a year of data, we are seeing some surprising patterns, especially in the tropics."

And Aquarius project manager Gene Carl Feldman concluded, "It says that our ability to screen out land contamination seems to be working quite well."

Up next is the NASA video Aquarius: One Year Observing the Salty Seas - Ocean Salinity & Climate published February 28th, 2013.

Aquarius: One Year Observing the Salty Seas - Ocean Salinity & Climate

Published February 28th, 2013

We Need More Marine Protected Areas

Currently, less than 2% of the ocean is protected. According to National Geographic, there are 5,000 marine protected areas (MPAs) in the world. Yet only 1% of earth's oceans are closed to fishing.

National Geographic provides The Ocean | Marine Protected Areas, an interactive map. When I moused over each country, both the percentage of territorial seas covered and the number of protected areas (for a given country) is displayed.

Here are some of the statistics I discovered (as of June 3rd, 2014):

  • Canada has ONLY 1.08% of territorial seas covered and 484 protected areas.
  • US has 29.39% of territorial seas covered and 750 protected areas.
  • Mexico has 13.99% of territorial seas covered and 118 protected areas.

In South America, the numbers steeply decline, particularly along its western coast. As a side note, it comes as no surprise that Canadian entrepreneurs David Katz and Shaun Frankson opened the first Plastic Bank in Peru last month, a cleanup effort I wrote about in Save the Planet and Solve Poverty: Demand Shrilk or Recycled Ocean Plastic.

  • Peru has 2.83% of territorial seas covered and 7 protected areas.
  • Chile has 3.73% of territorial seas covered and 15 protected areas.

The coasts of Greenland and Africa are also lacking in marine protected areas.

Further east, I was surprised that China is in desperate need of marine coverage and protection. China's numbers are 1.13% of its territorial seas covered and only 43 protected areas. Given China's population (and their reliance on the ocean for food) I thought those numbers would be higher.

As a Canadian, I feel we need to protect more of our waterways and coastal regions. I hope that the exemplary example set by New Caledonia inspires other countries around the world to do the same.

Coral Reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge
Credit: Jim Maragos (USFWS Pacific on flickr) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic