Science | Geography | Design & Technology

Island’s bold plan to protect its ocean

Can we still save our seas? Experts say that giving the ocean space to recover will help fish populations recover, restore habitat and help save the climate. But is it realistic? Niue is one of the smallest countries in the world. But it controls a vast sea, home to grey reef sharks, humpback whales and sea snakes. The Polynesian island plans to protect 100% of its waters. Rules limit fishing to special zones. The government allows traditional canoes and scuba diving to support communities and tourism. "The ocean is everything to us," says Premier Dalton Tagelagi. But it is under threat. Global warming is bleaching the coral. Overfishing has damaged its ecosystems. Scientists want world leaders to make 30% of the ocean a marine protected area by 2030. Currently, only 2.4% is fully protected. "It is very optimistic to think we'll reach 30 by 30," says expert Patricia Majluf. But can marine parks save our seas? "All they do is cause fishing to go elsewhere," says researcher Ray Hilborn. Three billion people depend on fish for food. Critics say "no-take" areas harm fishing communities. A fifth of fish is caught illegally. Niue has no navy to police its waters and many nations need the income from fishing. However, research shows marine parks help revive fish stocks and cut carbon emissions. They protect spawning grounds, helping numbers to recover. "The only way to get more food from the ocean is to protect more," says ecologist Enric Sala. Last year, the documentary Seaspiracy claimed the seas would be "virtually empty" of fish by 2048. Scientists say this is unlikely and the makers "cherry-picked" the data. However, overfishing is still a problem. Expert Holden Harris warns "one-third of the world's fish stocks are overexploited." The ocean is fundamental to regulating the Earth's climate. "We are doing our part to protect it for our future generation," says Premier Tagelagi. The future of life on Earth depends on what happens at sea. Can we still save our seas? Just a drop Yes: Nature is resilient. It will bounce back if given space to recover. Scientific research helps target the most vulnerable ecosystems. And new technology like drones can stamp out illegal fishing.

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