Other Environmental Themes

Safe Havens

Marine preserves, "no-take zones" that prohibit fishing, offer a good way of rebuilding depleted fish stocks. While six percent of the world's land area is devoted to national parks and other wilderness sanctuaries, less than one half of one percent of the oceans (in terms of surface area) is similarly protected. Properly- designed marine preserves make good economic sense, as well as good conservation sense. Fish tend to fluorish in these "safe havens," restoring local populations while replenishing neighboring fisheries.

This premise will be tested in a major way thanks to a resolution announced in March 2006. The Republic of Kiribati has agreed to create the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, the third largest marine protected area in the world. The eight-island archipelago, located in the central Pacific between Hawaii and Fiji, contains some of the most pristine coral reefs left on the planet. The remote island chain is home to more than 120 species of coral and 520 species of fish, as well as dolphins, sea turtles, and nesting seabirds. "Until we saw the Phoenix Islands, we didn't even know what a healthy reef was," says Gregory Stone of the New England Aquarium, which initiated the project with Kiribati.

Commercial fishing will be banned in the 190,000-square- kilometer protected zone in the deal brokered by the Aquarium, Conservation International, and the Kiribati government. Kiribati, which controls the fishing grounds, will be compensated for the lost fishing revenue through a special endowment administered by Conservation International. Subsistence fishing will be allowed for the island's residents, who currently number fewer than 50.

According to Conservation International, "successful conservation occurs not only in the creation of protected areas, but also in their effective management and their ability to return tangible benefits to local communities." In this case, the benefits will assume the form of financial rewards for conserving marine resources rather than exploiting them for near-term gain.

Stone is also a firm believer in using economic incentives to advance conservation goals. Rather than telling people what not to do, which is usually ineffective, he says, "it's better to create market-based plans that work for everybody." Hopefully, that will prove to be the case with Kiribati's new marine preserve.