The Chilean government recently announced that it has created the largest marine reserve in the Americas by protecting an area hundreds of miles off its coast roughly the size of Italy. The new area, called the Nazca-Desventuradas Marine Park, constitutes about eight percent of the ocean areas worldwide that have been declared off-limits to fishing and governed by no-take protections. Now, the Pacific island nation of Palau has resolved to protect nearly 80% of its oceans.
I’ve noticed a number of positive and interesting developments as of late in the area of marine species protection, pointing to an increasing recognition, by policymakers, of the value of natural capital and associated ecosystem services, particularly the value arising from ecotourism.
In February of this year, the Government of Indonesia granted full protection to manta rays within its nearly 6 million square kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ), making it the world’s largest sanctuary for manta rays. This reverses the trend of the past three decades wherein Indonesia has had the dubious distinction of being home to the world’s largest fishery for sharks and rays. Why the reversal? It seem that studies showing that the ecotourism value of a manta ray is an estimated $1 million over its lifetime, as compared to the onetime value of several hundred dollars for its gill rakers and meat played a key role in persuading policymakers to take action to protect the iconic species.
A few weeks later, the President of Palau announced that the country’s entire 200 nautical mile EEZ will be declared a marine sanctuary and closed to commercial fishing and seabed mining. This follows a move a few years earlier to declare Palau a shark sanctuary. In explaining the reasoning behind the moves Palau’s president noted that a dead shark is worth several hundred dollars, whereas a live shark is worth $1.9 million in tourism during its life span, and that his country will promote scuba diving, snorkelling and ecotourism as an alternative income to commercial fishing. Continue reading
Ever heard of Jellyfish Lake? Located on the Eil Malik island of Palau, Ongeim’l Tketau (as the natives call it) is a lake which was formed about 12,000 years ago by the Pacific Ocean. Along with the clean blue waters of the Pacific, the tides brought in immigrants – jellyfish of the genus Mastigias . Today, after 12,000 years of isolation and removal from the predator-rich environment of the Pacific Ocean from which they originated, the jellyfish have evolved into a significantly different organism. Due to the fact that the only predators the scyphozoans have is a species of anemone which is significantly removed from their swimming depth, they reduced their defensive mechanisms to virtual non-existence, meaning that unlike most beach-faring jellyfish, they don’t sting.
Due to this remarkably friendly gesture, Jellyfish Lake has become a popular snorkelling destination, and those fortunate enough to swim those waters are graced with an ethereal sensation of a world different and far removed from our own.