Why are marine protected areas and sanctuaries important?

8 June 2017, UN Ocean Conference, New York -  The following statement was made by the Minister in Assistance, Hon. F. Umiich Sengebau, Minister of Natural Resources, Environment & Tourism, Republic of Palau at 'The Pacific Voyage – Our Ocean, Our People, Our Pacific' side event held on World Ocean Day, during the UN Ocean Conference.


"Excellencies, Ministers, Director General of SPREP, Distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen. At the outset, let me thank SPREP for the wonderful arrangement of this event. The Ocean is very much of who we are pacific islanders. It is our culture, food security, economy and even a place for recreational activities. Today, we have much to celebrate in the Pacific in regards to our contribution to the international community.
It is not a coincidence that by far the greatest number of MPAs in the world's oceans have been established in the Pacific, by SPREP Members. We are on the frontline of climate change and extinction threats for marine wildlife and coral reefs. Pacific island governments have shown leadership to the world on marine conservation through initiatives such as the Phoenix Islands in Kiribati, the Natural Park of the Coral Sea, the Cook Islands Marine Park, and of course the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, which I will talk about later.
But I'd like to focus first on the role of MPAs in protecting threatened species through the establishment of sanctuaries, and the positive role that this can play for small island economies.
The Pacific islands region has seen catastrophic declines in the populations of its most iconic marine species. Turtles were abundant for millions of years, but are now endangered through a combination of ongoing human consumption, by-catch in fishing operations, poorly-managed development and the impacts of climate change.
During the 19th and 20th Centuries, industrial whaling almost brought to extinction the great whales that overwinter to breed in the Pacific islands and migrate to Antarctica each summer to feed. As for many threatened species, the whaling operations were carried out without consultation with the Pacific islands.
And the rapid increase in demand for shark's fin soup over the past 25 years has resulted in an equally rapid decline in the populations of many shark species in our region, with consequences for ecological balance, both in coastal and oceanic waters.
Although we may be small islands and economies, our region of over 30 million sq km is unique in the world, because 97% of this vast area is within our Exclusive Economic Zones and consequently, Pacific island nations have jurisdiction over large areas of ocean where we can exercise some management control. This is especially true when we join together in a shared commitment.
For example, the Micronesia Shark Sanctuary which comprises the EEZs of Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, covers an area of 5.5 million sq km, within which similar measures apply under our respective legislation domestic legislations. This enables us to apply appropriate measures to conserve our depleted shark populations.
Similarly, the South Pacific island countries and territories where humpback whales breed have established contiguous whale sanctuaries, covering over 12 million sq km. Palau and other countries have also declared marine mammal sanctuaries within their EEZs.
The Palau National Marine Sanctuary not only protects marine mammals and sharks, we are also banning industrial fishing in 80% of our EEZ by 2020, and catching only enough fish to provide for subsistence needs and the tourist market in the remaining 20% of the zone.
Protecting our threatened species through conservation and marine sanctuaries also bring economic benefits. Studies have shown that sharks in Palau has a one-time value of $108 when dead but may generate $1.9 million in ecotourism revenues during its lifetime. Shark-diving is worth over $42 million per year to Fiji, and in Tonga, whale-watch revenues amount to millions of dollars annually.
An important issue going forward for Palau and many other Pacific islands is the development and adoption of best practice guidelines to promote the development of sustainable tourism that will benefit both threatened species and coastal communities alike. We should aim to reinforce the image of our region as one that values the ocean and all its wildlife.
Pacific island governments are sorely under-resourced to monitor their EEZS, and more partnerships such as the one that we have developed in Palau with the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Nippon Foundation and others are urgently needed. Such partnerships should also include technological assistance in the monitoring of our oceans by remote sensing devices that will not only provide information about IUU fishing, but can also collect and transmit valuable data on species conservation, such as freshly-made turtle tracks or coral bleaching events.
Capacity-building support, for both equipment and human resources, is also essential to enhance the role of Pacific islanders in managing their ocean.
And come to visit us – careful tourists who are respectful of the environment and customs of our islands are very important components of the economy of Palau and many other Pacific island countries. By enjoying yourselves with some of the most spectacular wildlife on the planet, you will also be helping the families of the coastal communities who are their custodians.
Thank you."
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