As the world’s oceans deteriorate, a tiny island nation northwest of New Zealand is doing its part to reverse the decline.

The island of Niue just announced that it will establish a marine protected area to include 40% of its national waters.

For a nation dependent on marine industries, that’s a big deal. But for the 1,600 or so people of Niue, it’s a decision that has precedents that go back for more than a millennium.

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“I look at this from a viewpoint that it is an intergenerational investment on our part,” Niue Premier Toki Talagi said in an interview with Radio New Zealand following the announcement. “I see conservation in that respect as being an investment for the future generation of Niue. I believe that our ancestors used to invest like that but for much shorter periods of time.”

The marine protected area encompasses 129,909 kilometers of ocean and land and covers reefs and atolls, including the Beveridge Reef, which is home to large numbers of threatened grey reef sharks. Commercial fishing will now be banned from the area and it will be protected from other harmful activities.

How the area will be monitored is still being determined, but the country hopes to do patrols with a drone rather than a traditional boating crew because it will allow them to be more nimble, according to the premier.

The premier said that the designation is in response to the escalating threat of climate change and hopes that it spurs countries with more power to take action.

“Climate change and all the things happening with respect to that is caused by people who are well outside Niue but unfortunately climate change does not have any borders as we all know so therefore it is impacting on things we have here at home,” Talagi told Radio New Zealand.

As with other island nations, Niue is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to the United Nations.

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Rising sea levels threaten the nation’s freshwater supplies, while intensifying tropical cyclones have already begun to damage infrastructure throughout the island, undermining its food supply.

Establishing a marine protected can make the natural environment more resilient in the face of stronger storms by allowing natural structures such as coral reefs to regenerate and provide buffers.

It can also help the island achieve greater control over its food supply by allowing fish populations and natural environments to regenerate.

Read More: A Tiny Island Is Showing the World How to Protect Our Oceans

Studies have shown that creating a no-fish zone in one area boosts fish populations elsewhere, increasing overall catches.

Other benefits from protecting marine areas include shielding endangered species from further decline and fostering a robust ecotourism industry, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.

Globally, more than 5% of the world’s oceans are protected, and the UN is hoping to increase this proportion to 10% by 2020 to protect the oceans against a number of threats, including climate change, ocean acidification, pollution, overfishing, and more.

An increasing sense of urgency has surrounded this project in recent years as the world’s coral reefs continue to collapse at staggering rates, fish populations plummet to perilous levels, and plastic waste pervades waters as remote as the Arctic.  

Global Citizen campaigns on the UN’s Global Goals that call for increased protection of the world’s oceans and you can take action on this issue here.

Niue, for its part, is under no illusions that it can single-handedly combat these problems. But the country is hoping to be a part of the solution.

“I hope that by this example that world leaders will look at what we are trying to do and see if there is a way for them to work with us as well to make this world a better place for all of us in future,” Toki told Radio New Zealand.


Defend the Planet

This Tiny Island Just Set Aside a Huge Marine Protected Area

By Joe McCarthy