Tiny Pacific island nation seeks ocean sponsors in novel conservation plan

The tiny Pacific island nation of Niue has come up with a novel plan to protect its vast and pristine territorial waters: it will get sponsors to pay.

Under the plan, which was launched by Niue’s premier, Dalton Tagelagi, on Tuesday in New York, individuals or companies can pay $148 to protect 1 square kilometre of ocean from threats such as illegal fishing and plastic waste for a period of 20 years.

Niue hopes to raise more than $18m from the scheme by selling 127,000 square kilometre units, representing the 40% of its waters that form a no-take marine protected area.

Tagelagi said his people have always had a close connection with the sea.

“Niue is just one island in the middle of the big blue ocean,” Tagelagi told the Associated Press. “We are surrounded by the ocean, and we live off the ocean. That’s our livelihood.”

He said Niueans inherited and learned about the ocean from their forefathers and they want to be able to pass it on to the next generation in sustainable health.

Most fishing in Niue is to sustain local people, although there are some small-scale commercial operations and occasional offshore industrial-scale fishing, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

“Because of all the illegal fishing and all the other activities at the moment, we thought that we should be taking the lead, to teach others that we’ve got to protect the ocean,” Tagelagi said.

Unregulated fishing can deplete fish stocks, which then cannot replenish, while plastics can be ingested by or entangle marine wildlife. The climate crisis has also led to warmer and more acidic oceans, altering ecosystems for underwater species.

Niue is also especially vulnerable to rising sea levels threatening its land and freshwater, and the island is at risk of more intense tropical storms.

With a population of just 1,700 people, Niue is one of the smallest countries in the world, dwarfed by an ocean territory 1,200 times larger than its land mass.

Under the plan, the sponsorship money – called Ocean Conservation Commitments – will be administered by a charitable trust.

Niue will buy 1,700 sponsorship units, representing one for each of its citizens. Other launch donors include philanthropist Lyna Lam and her husband, Chris Larsen, who co-founded blockchain company Ripple, and US based nonprofit Conservation International, which helped set up some technical aspects of the scheme.

The Guardian

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