November 19th, 2012 by Chris Milton
Two hot “world’s largest marine reserve” stories have been swimming around the news over the last few months.
A few days ago Australia announced it was going to create a massive network of marine reserves whose area would total 888,000 miles2. That’s nearly the combined area of Alaska and Texas… 931,000 miles2!
However, back in August, the Cook Islands (Australia’s minnow-like neighbour in the Pacific Ocean) announced it was creating a huge 965,000-mile2 marine reserve around it as part of the Pacific Oceanscape project.
So, surely the Cook Islands has the world’s largest marine reserve, right? Ah, if only everything were that simple!
Australia already has around 300,000 miles2 of ocean under its protection, so the total for its marine reserve is now 1.2 million miles2, which is larger than the whole of India, and larger than the Cook Islands’ marine reserve.
BUT the Pacific Oceanscape project covers nearly 15.4 million miles2. Hang on a sec while I get my calculator… that’s larger than the US, Russia, and China combined and just under 8% of the world’s entire surface area.
Holy mother of mackerel!
Of course, this “world’s biggest marine reserve” thing is something of a red herring (OK, that’s the last fishy pun). After all, up until the Cook Islands announcement, the Chagos Archipelago was the world’s largest marine reserve, all 545,000 miles2 of it in the Indian Ocean.
So, maybe all this marine reserve thing is just a bit of national oneupmanship? Well, yes and no. They’re all actually subtly different… for example, the Chagos Archipelago still has the world’s largest no-fishing zone.
However, the biggest winner has to be marine life itself. With many of these areas relatively undamaged by commercial fishing, their preservation means someone, somewhere is finally taking the need to preserve marine biodiversity seriously.
Just a shame it appears to be the Polynesian nations of the Pacific Ocean, and not the world’s consumers, whose greed led to the protection being required in the first place.
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