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Environment

One of the Last Pristine Coral Reefs Gets World's Strongest Legal Protection

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Coral reefs foster vibrant marine ecosystems and support coastal communities around the world. The United Nations’ Global Goals call on countries to protect marine environments. You can join us in taking action on this issue here.  

The Pacific Island of New Caledonia announced the strongest possible legal protections for its coral reefs on Tuesday, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.

The 10,810 square miles of coral reef are now a national park, otherwise known as a “Strict Nature Reserve,” meaning all types of extraction like fishing and oil drilling are prohibited and other forms of human activity will be strictly monitored, WWF reports.

It’s the strongest protection recommended by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and it marks a breakthrough moment for marine conservation.

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The reefs are home to more than 9,300 marine species and around 2.5 million seabirds depend on the reefs, according to the Guardian.

“This is the kind of leadership we need to see in coral reef conservation and we applaud it,” John Tanzer, oceans leader for WWF International, said in a statement. “The evidence is clear that coral reefs are in steep decline around the world, so it is most encouraging to see the magnificent and important reefs of New Caledonia receiving such strong levels of protection.”

The government had previously regulated the area as part of a larger natural park, which entailed certain regulations, but the updated protections reflect the urgent crisis facing marine environments around the world.

Read More: 5 Coral Reefs That Are Dying Around the World

“With good management, these marine protected areas will help maintain fish populations and ecosystem health that will build the reef’s resilience to the impacts of climate change in [the] future. This leadership must inspire similar action by other governments,” Tanzer said.

Globally, around 7% of the world’s oceans are protected in some way.

New Caledonia relies on tourism, so there is a clear economic incentive in protecting the reefs, which are a major attraction, the Guardian reports.

The reefs also support other industries, including fishing, and help to protect the island from storms.  

Around the world, a range of threats — including rising ocean temperatures, the acidification of waters, invasive species, pollution, overfishing, and more — are causing coral reefs to die.

Read More: Plastic Is Causing Coral Reefs to Get Sick and Die

By 2050, scientists predict that nearly all coral reefs could be destroyed by coral bleaching, when extreme heat kills the organisms on the reefs.

The Great Barrier Reef, a reef so big it’s visible from space, is half-dead and declining rapidly.

Setting up marine protected areas doesn’t ward off all the threats facing coral reefs, but it does help scientists and conservationists to better promote their well-being, according to WWF.