The tiny Pacific nation of Palau plans to make almost all of its coastal waters a marine sanctuary amid growing concern over the lack of ocean conservation efforts worldwide.
Last Thursday, lawmakers passed the Palau National Marine Sanctuary Act that designates 80 percent of the nation's maritime territory as a fully protected marine reserve. Palau's president signed the legislation on Wednesday.
“A small island nation can have a big impact on the ocean,” President Tommy Remengesau said ahead of a ceremony on Wednesday to officially sign off on the reserve, according to Agence France-Presse.
“Island communities have been among the hardest hit by the threats facing the ocean," he added. "Creating this sanctuary is a bold move that the people of Palau recognize as essential to our survival.
The law prohibits all extractive activities, such as fishing or mining, from taking place inside the sanctuary. At 193,000 square miles, the sanctuary is slightly larger than California, making it the sixth-largest fully protected marine area in the world.
The law also aims to curb illegal fishing by tightening rules for vessels passing through the area. Palau’s government set fire to several vessels caught fishing illegally earlier this year to emphasize its commitment to protecting its seas.
The remaining 20 percent of Palau's waters will be kept as domestic fishing zones for local fishermen and small-scale commercial fisheries with limited exports.
Ocean conservation has received heightened attention this year as researchers have raised concern over the risks associated with climate change, overfishing, and other threats.
A recent study conducted by two researchers at the University of British Columbia found that only four percent of the world’s oceans are protected. The study concludes that major steps are needed to cover even the most basic global targets to protect marine wildlife, The Christian Science Monitor reported.
The Sea Around Us, an international research group, set a goal of 10 percent by 2020, despite it having taken decades for countries to reach the current level of four percent.
But momentum has slowly started to build. New commitments made this year from countries including Britain, New Zealand, and Chile would protect more than 2.5 million square kilometers of the world's ocean.
This report includes material from The Associated Press.