Ocean Action Hub

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Ending Overfishing Is Opportunity to Combat Climate Crisis - Report

6 Sept 2019 - Ending overfishing would not only secure vital fish populations for the future, but constitutes a significant climate emergency action, according to the latest report.

6 Sept 2019 - Ending overfishing would not only secure vital fish populations for the future, but constitutes a significant climate emergency action, according to the latest report. According to Our Fish, the report's findings offer EU governments a realistic opportunity to deliver immediate and effective action on dangerous climate change, as well as meeting their legal obligations to finally quit overfishing. 

The working paper, Ending Overfishing Can Mitigate Impacts of Climate Change, by Dr. Rashid Sumaila and Dr. Travis Tai of the University of British Columbia, finds that "overfishing and climate change are not mutually exclusive problems to be addressed separately," as both are severely impacting ocean health, and putting marine ecosystems and the goods and services they provide to communities at risk. Ending overfishing would give the ocean respite from human pressure, making it more resilient to the effects of the climate crisis, while helping to restore critically valuable marine ecosystems, says the paper. 

"A healthy person is more likely to survive an epidemic than a person who is less healthy, and because of overfishing we have severely weakened the ocean's immune system" said Dr. Sumaila. "Ending overfishing now would strengthen the ocean, making it more capable of withstanding climate change and restoring marine ecosystems". Dr. Sumaila is in Brussels this week to brief EU policymakers on how ending overfishing in EU waters supports EU commitments to taking climate action.

Dr. Sumaila hosted a webinar on climate action and overfishing, on September 2nd, at 1500 CET. To view the video of the webinar, click here. 

The working paper finds that: 

  1. Overfishing and climate change are two of the biggest stressors on ocean health, including to marine ecosystems, biodiversity and fisheries;
  2. Recent estimates suggest that at least 40% of fish stocks in the North East Atlantic and 87% in the Mediterranean and Black Seas are currently subject to unsustainable fishing practices, including stocks that are overfished or exploited at an unsustainable rate [2];
  3. The onset of rapid climate-related changes in marine ecosystems will increase pressure on fish populations, with the potential of extinction for some species;
  4. Decisive action is critical to ensure the long-term sustainability of marine ecosystems and fisheries;
  5. Due to the current inefficiencies that result in catching more fish than nature can generate, improvements in fisheries management to achieve MSY would not only increase long-term catch, but actually offset some of the negative effects of climate change on catches;
  6. Implementation of strategies to increase resilience has been found to help with recovery from extreme climate impacts; overfishing and climate change are not mutually exclusive problems to be addressed separately, and holistic comprehensive solutions must be found to address these two global challenges.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/wire-news/329043040/ending-overfishing-is-opportunity-to-combat-climate-crisis-rep.html

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New threat from ocean acidification emerges in the Southern Ocean

27 Aug 2019 - The oceans act as a carbon sink and have already absorbed more than 40% of anthropogenic carbon emissions.

27 Aug 2019 - The oceans act as a carbon sink and have already absorbed more than 40% of anthropogenic carbon emissions. The majority of this CO2 has been taken up by the Southern Ocean making these waters hotspots of ocean acidification (OA).

Lead author of the paper published in Nature Climate Change, Dr. Katherina Petrou from the University of Technology Sydney, said that although changes in  pH have been shown to impact marine calcifying organisms, the consequences for non-calcifying  are less clear.

"Previous studies reported a range of responses to OA [in phytoplankton] yet rarely considered how environmental pH shifts might affect silicification rates in diatoms," she says.

"Diatoms are unique phytoplankton in that they need silicic acid to produce silica cell walls. Under the microscope they look like beautiful glass jewellery boxes, but importantly, this dense, glass-like armour promotes sinking, which makes diatoms an important conduit for transport of carbon to the where it can be stored for millennia."

Diatoms are responsible for around 40% of ocean productivity which means they play a major role in supporting marine food webs, sustaining life for millions of creatures, including humans.

"The only genuine way to circumvent this outcome, is to cut our greenhouse gas emissions and limit the acidification of our oceans," the researchers say.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://phys.org/news/2019-08-threat-ocean-acidification-emerges-southern.html

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Marine scientists discover an important, overlooked role sea urchins play in the kelp forest ecosystem

10 July 2019 - Urchins may be crucial to the health of the kelp forest ecosystem.

10 July 2019 - Sea urchins have gotten a bad rap on the Pacific coast. The spiky sea creatures can mow down entire swaths of kelp forest, leaving behind rocky urchin barrens. An article in the New York Times went so far as to call them "cockroaches of the ocean." But new research suggests that urchins play a more complex role in their ecosystems than previously believed.

A team led by Christie Yorke, a postdoctoral scholar at UC Santa Barbara's Marine Science Institute, studied how urchins might function to break up tough kelp into more manageable pieces that can feed other scavengers, also known as detritivores, living on the kelp forest floor. The paper, published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B, is the first to look at ' role as shredders in the kelp forest ecosystem.

Urchins can have an outsized effect on , especially when their predators aren't around to keep their population in check, Yorke explained. Overhunting of the sea otter, one of urchins' most significant predators, has allowed some urchin populations to clear cut vast tracts of kelp forest, drastically reducing the productivity and biodiversity of sites they've munched through. Some groups have even taken to indiscriminately smashing urchins to stem this scourge.

Nevertheless, urchins may be crucial to the health of the kelp forest ecosystem. Giant kelp is highly productive, growing up to 18 inches per day under ideal conditions. But a significant amount of this material gets transported away from the ecosystem, washing up on beaches, getting swept out to the open ocean or drifting into the deep sea. Kelp is also rather unpalatable compared to single-celled phytoplankton.

Yorke and her colleagues were curious whether anything might be able to retain this food source within the kelp forest. "We know that kelp affects animals by providing habitat for fish and other species, but does it actually feed any of these animals?" said Bob Miller, a research biologist at the Marine Science Institute and one of the paper's coauthors.

Scientists have hypothesized that kelp sheds  that could be a food source. But the team's previous work found that kelp didn't appear to be nourishing the filter feeders in this way. The activity of sloppy sea urchins offered a promising alternative pathway for funneling nutrients from kelp to the ecosystem's detritivore.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2019-07-marine-scientists-important-overlooked-role.html

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Miniature transponder technology to be used in the war against ocean plastic

3 May 2019 - Low-cost acoustic tags attached to fishing nets are being trialled as part of a major new project to reduce marine litter and 'ghost fishing'.

3 May 2019 - Low-cost acoustic tags attached to fishing nets are being trialled as part of a major new project to reduce marine litter and 'ghost fishing'.

Lost fishing gear—known as ghost nets—are a major threat to life in our oceans. Choking coral reefs, damaging marine habitats and entangling fish, marine mammals and seabirds, they are also a danger to boats, catching in the propellers. And they are a key source of plastic pollution, gradually breaking up and disintegrating to add to the growing volume of microplastics in the ocean.

Often lost during storms or in strong currents, the nets can travel long distances and can continue to fish for years afterwards—hence the phrase ghost fishing. Because of this, locating and removing the nets is both highly desirable and a major challenge.

The new NetTag project has been set up to try to reduce and prevent marine litter by developing new technology for the location and recovery of lost fishing gear based on miniature transponders—acoustic devices that pick up and automatically respond to an incoming signal. The project also aims to promote improved practices for the management of fishing waste.

The project is a collaboration between Newcastle University (UK) who develop underwater communication and tracking technology, CIIMAR (PT), INESC-TEC (PT), and the Universities of Aveiro (PT) and Santiago de Compostela (ES), together with stakeholders from the fishing industry across Europe.

CONTINUE READING ONLINE HERE: https://phys.org/news/2019-04-miniature-transponder-technology-war-ocean.html

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The blue economy – ocean of opportunity or sea of troubles?

6 Mar 2019 - A sustainable blue economy will only be beneficial if it limits unsustainable growth, is built from the ground up, and has marine biodiversity protection at its core.


OPINION: Daniel Steadman - Fauna & Flora International, from: www.phys.org

6 Mar 2019 - For centuries, we have thought of the ocean as unimaginably vast and unchangeable, as a sea of opportunity, spawning fishing fleets and shipping lines, building the wealth of maritime nations. The ocean fundamentally underpins the populations and food of many coastal and island states, and always has done.

But seas are not limitless, and nor are their resources. We cannot extract all the fish and dump our waste at sea with impunity. The  cannot mop up the atmosphere's CO2 without consequences for its own health – and ours.

The rush towards ocean exploitation continues, be it deep-sea mining, or capitalising on  and new biotechnology opportunities. The water seems deep and inviting to many, and innovation in marine industries abounds. Some of the world's leading marine innovators, entrepreneurs and decision-makers are gathering at this week's World Ocean Summit in Abu Dhabi to discuss this sea of opportunity, this chance to create a "Blue Economy."

So what is a Blue Economy? Is it a vision of the future where humans take more from the ocean than they do now? Is it a way of ensuring that the food and money derived from the ocean are shared more equally? Is it a set of principles that guide the decisions of our governments and leaders of industry? In a sense, Blue Economy is all of these things, but it is precisely this range of definitions that represents both an opportunity and a risk to marine biodiversity.

Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2019-03-blue-economy-ocean-opportunity-sea.html#jCp

Photo credit: Fauna & Flora International

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Ocean Health Index releases seventh annual assessment of global ocean health

6 Dec 2018 - Ocean health is remaining relatively stable, but improvements are still needed to achieve a sustainable future.

6 Dec 2018 - Today the Ocean Health Index (OHI) released its seventh assessment of global ocean health. Like the previous two years, the 2018 average score for our oceans was 70 out of 100. This highlights that ocean health is remaining relatively stable, but improvements are still needed to achieve a sustainable future.

The Ocean Health Index is a tool developed by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) and Conservation International to evaluate the benefits people derive from the . As the first and only existing ocean assessment tool to scientifically compare and combine key elements from all dimensions of the ocean's  – biological, physical, economic, and social – OHI equips managers and policymakers with meaningful vital signs that can help them manage oceans sustainably.

"An annual, comprehensive diagnostic for the world's oceans provides  with information and knowledge they can use to implement effective actions for improved sustainable ocean management," noted Dr. Ben Halpern, lead scientist for OHI, Director of NCEAS, and Professor at the Bren School at University of California Santa Barbara. "With seven years of OHI data, we are gaining deeper insights into how healthy our oceans are through time and space."

By conducting annual assessments, OHI provides a comprehensive view of how well the marine system and the people who depend on it are faring and changing through time. Last year, nearly two-thirds of the assessed countries were experiencing decreases in , but in 2018 these numbers leveled out and 109 countries are experiencing increases with 111 experiencing decreases.

Among the highest scoring, at 80 or above, were island nations, such as Aruba in the Caribbean and New Caledonia in the south Pacific, or uninhabited islands. Germany was the only one of these 17 high scorers with a population that exceeds one million people. On the other end of the spectrum, 10 regions scored 50 or below, including seven African, one Central American, and two Middle Eastern nations.

The data that powers the Ocean Health Index, like the ocean itself, is dynamic. OHI benefits from constant evaluation and improvement aimed at incorporating new knowledge, data and understanding, and capturing what is important to people for healthy oceans. Therefore, underlying methods or data for some goals have been upgraded.

As a living index built on open data science practices, OHI is flexible in receiving these new data, continuing to build a robust evaluation of ocean health. For 2018, the Mariculture sub-goal was updated to include seaweed once it was identified that most seaweed production is for human consumption. The seaweed industry's contribution to food is valued at $5 billion and its demand is continuing to increase worldwide.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2018-12-ocean-health-index-seventh-annual.html

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How local ecological knowledge can save endangered and rare animals

30 Nov 2017 - From knowing where animals live, to which plants provide what medicinal benefits, communities around the world hold expert levels of knowledge on their local environments.

30 Nov 2017 - From knowing where animals live, to which plants provide what medicinal benefits, communities around the world hold expert levels of knowledge on their local environments.

In general, scientific investigations provide precise and measurable information, collected over short amounts of time. But this "local ecological knowledge" is made up of observations collected over very long time periods, which are often passed down through the generations. It can be simple things, like knowing the best places to fish, or can include rare or extreme events, such as floods or periods of bad weather.

For coastal communities dependent on ocean resources, this accumulated ecological knowledge is key to collecting food and maintaining livelihoods. But community ecological knowledge need not, and does not, stand alone from science. It has been repeatedly "tested" by scientists, and is now increasingly being recognised as a valuable asset in environmental management and conservation biology.

In recent years, wider recognition of its value has resulted in local knowledge being drawn on to support natural resource management. It has been used to help design , for example in Myanmar and the Philippines.

By combining the two, local knowledge can be a useful tool in data poor areas. Particularly when it comes to monitoring rare or endangered species.

Saving the dugong

The  is a large marine mammal that feeds almost exclusively on seagrass – itself a threatened plant species. At present the dugong is listed as "vulnerable to extinction" on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature red list. Major threats to dugong populations include habitat loss, coastal development, pollution, fishing activities, vessel strikes and unsustainable hunting or poaching.

Dugongs are thought to exist in only small fragmented groups outside of their primary population in Australia. Though dugongs are still found in the coastal waters of more than 40 countries throughout the Indo-West Pacific, accurate scientific information is scarce and often anecdotal. To properly support the protection of these vulnerable animals, we need to know where they are.

To monitor dugong populations, researchers typically use aerial surveys or unmanned aerial vehicles. But these techniques are costly, and often affected by difficult conditions such as cloudy water and glare. Additionally, they also provide only a narrow snapshot of what might be occurring in any particular area at a single time.

This is where local ecological knowledge can be hugely beneficial. If available, it has the potential to fill in the detail about the whereabouts and numbers of sighted dugongs.

Indonesian efforts

In Indonesia, dugongs are protected but there is limited accessible information on population numbers or their geographical range. Though the government appears committed to conserving the species, there is also growing evidence of the rapid decline of Indonesian seagrass meadows due to a suite of threats including overfishing.

But fishers are not the dugong's enemy, rather they could be its saviour. Our recently published research used the knowledge of fishers to confirm the persistence of dugong in the Wakatobi National Park, Indonesia. The fishers, who take to the water daily, were able to relay precise times, dates and locations of multiple dugong sightings, going as far back as 1942. These fishers had knowledge that far surpassed any official research record and were able to describe previously unrecorded historical trends and population changes.

This is not the first time that this kind of locally-held ecological knowledge has been used to conserve species, nor will it be the last. Other examples include the conservation of the endangered Baleen whale poplulations in the Falklands, and rare freshwater fishes in the Mekong River.

Using science and the ecological  of local people does more than save just one species at a time, too. The ocean is an ecosystem, and each plant, animal or other creature relies on one another. Dugong and seagrass conservation, for example, go hand-in-hand. To acquire better information on the population distribution of dugongs, we also need to know the distribution and status of seagrass. And by integrating these kinds of information, we can start saving the oceans.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2017-11-local-ecological-knowledge-endangered-rare...

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Saving seagrasses from dredging—new research finds solutions

3 Nov 2017 - Timing of dredging is the key to helping preserve one of the world's most productive and important ecosystems—seagrass meadows.

3 Nov 2017 - Timing of dredging is the key to helping preserve one of the world's most productive and important ecosystems—seagrass meadows.

Seagrass meadows are among themost underappreciated but most important ecosystems in the world

Seagrasses are disappearing at the same rate as tropical rainforests and coral reefs

New research can provide answers on when and how much to dredge via an 'ecological window'

Modelling provides up to a fourfold reduction in time it takes for  to recover

The study, published overnight in Nature Communications, was led by QUT researchers in collaboration with seagrass experts at Edith Cowan and James Cook universities.

Lead researcher, QUT's Dr Paul Wu, has developed a way of predicting the ideal time to dredge in order to give seagrass the best and quickest chance of recovery.

Dr Wu said dredging was a source for seagrass loss and timing of dredging determines if seagrass will recover and how quickly.

"This is called an ecological window," Dr Wu said.

The team of researchers studied 28  around the world.

Seagrasses provide shelter and food to an incredibly diverse community of life, from the tiniest of marine creatures, to fish, turtles, dugongs, other marine mammals and birds.

It is also estimated one hectare of seagrass can absorb 35-times as much carbon dioxide as a hectare of Amazon rainforest, as well as produce 100-thousand litres of oxygen per day.

Despite this immense value, large areas of seagrass are disappearing every year because of accumulated stressors, including human activities, most notably dredging.

Dr Wu is an Associate Investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Mathematical and Statistical Frontiers (ACEMS) within QUT's Mathematical and Statistical Sciences Faculty.

He has developed an advanced statistical model to predict when dredging is least likely to damage seagrass.

Dr Wu said the model could be used globally, not just in Australia.

"Our model can provide up to a fourfold reduction in recovery time, and up to a 35 per cent reduction in local extinction risk for seagrass species," said Dr Wu.

"So if the seagrass can come back more quickly, or minimise the impact, that will also help everything that depends on it."

The modelling also takes into account another very important factor – resilience.

Some areas of seagrass are stronger and healthier and can handle more stress. The modelling looks at how resistant a system is to change, how quickly it can recover, and considers the probability of extinction in local populations.

"Being able to tell the difference between a site where you can do some dredging and seagrass will come back, a site that is at its limit and you shouldn't do any more to it, or a site that's already dying and it doesn't make a difference what you do to it, is very important," said Dr Wu.

There are dozens of seagrass species around the world. They typically grow along gently sloping, protected coastlines.

Seagrasses depend on light for photosynthesis, most commonly found in shallow depths where light levels are high.

Dredging can significantly reduce the amount of light reaching the seagrass.

Dr Kathryn McMahon (pictured diving above), Deputy Director of Edith Cowan University's Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research, said seagrass is much like terrestrial plants.

"There are natural phases of seagrass growth and reproduction, therefore, at particular times seagrasses could be more or less vulnerable to dredging pressures," Dr McMahon said.

"By combining our knowledge of the biology of seagrasses with natural environmental fluctuations and human pressures we identify the best time to minimise long-term impacts for human activities."

Dr Wu believed proponents of dredging and coastal development would be among those who could benefit from the use of this model.

"The model allows dredging and coastal development to move forward, but helps mitigate the environmental impacts on seagrass and the many ecosystems that depend on it," said Dr Wu.

Dr Wu said his Bayesian network model combines both the use of data with expert knowledge.

"As with many ecosystems, there isn't enough data to fully understand the system," Dr Wu said.

"The processes are too complex and there is too much variability in nature. We bolster the data we have with expert knowledge from seagrass scientists who dive on the , studying them and taking samples, decades of valuable experience."

Those experts come from the School of Sciences and Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research at Edith Cowan University, the Western Australian Marine Science Institution in Perth, the UWA Oceans Institute and School of Biological Sciences at the University of Western Australia, and the Centre for Tropical Water & Aquatic Ecosystem Research at James Cook University.

"What makes the model even more important is that it isn't limited to just seagrass. It could be used to model other natural ecosystems under stress, like mangroves and coral reefs," Dr Wu said.

JCU's Dr Michael Rasheed said the model was more practical than existing systems.

"Global trends indicate favourable windows in autumn and winter where dredging causes the least damage," Dr Rasheed said.

"Ideally, impact assessments of dredging campaigns do still need to be customised for specific meadows at specific periods in time and incorporate uncertainty associated with forecasted future conditions in the area."

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2017-11-seagrasses-dredgingnew-solutions.html

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Coral gardening is benefiting Caribbean reefs, study finds

28 July 2017 - A new study found that Caribbean staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis) are benefiting from "coral gardening," the process of restoring coral populations by planting laborat

28 July 2017 - A new study found that Caribbean staghorn corals (Acropora cervicornis) are benefiting from "coral gardening," the process of restoring coral populations by planting laboratory-raised coral fragments on reefs.

The research, led by scientists at the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science and partners, has important implications for the long-term survival of  worldwide, which have been in worldwide decline from multiple stressors such as climate change and ocean pollution.

"Our study showed that current restoration methods are very effective," said UM Rosenstiel school coral biologist Stephanie Schopmeyer, the lead author of the study. "Healthy coral reefs are essential to our everyday life and successful coral restoration has been proven as a recovery tool for lost coastal resources."

In the study, the researchers set out to document restoration success during their initial two years at several coral restoration sites in Florida and Puerto Rico. Their findings showed that current restoration methods are not causing excess damage to donor colonies as a result of removing coral tissue to propagate new coral in the lab, and that once outplanted, corals behave just as wild colonies do.

Staghorn  have declined as much as 90% in the Caribbean since the 1980s. As a result, the species was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2006 to help protect and conserve these species that form the foundation of the biologically rich coral reef habitats.

The findings, published in the of the journal Coral Reefs, offers a guide for successful restoration and recovery efforts of the threatened species worldwide.

Thousands of corals are raised in laboratories and planted onto degraded reefs each year. This study is the first to collect baseline coral restoration survival and productivity data at regional scales including data from 1,000s of individual A. cervicornis colonies, more than 120 distinct genotypes within six geographical regions to develop benchmarks to fully assess the progress and impacts of the region's coral and  restoration efforts.

Coral reefs provide many goods and services including fisheries habitat, food for humans and other ocean species, and protection against natural hazards such as hurricanes. As a result, coral restoration is viewed as an effective and cost-efficient strategy to buffer coastlines from the effects of storm surge and sea-level rise.

"Coral reefs are declining at an alarming rate and coral restoration programs are now considered an essential component to coral conservation and management plan," said Diego Lirman, UM Rosenstiel School professor of marine biology and ecology and a coauthor of the study. "Our findings provide the necessary scientific benchmarks to evaluate restoration progress moving forward."

The study was conducted in collaboration with U.S. Acropora Recovery Program partners: Nova Southeastern University, University of Miami, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Mote Marine Laboratory, The Nature Conservancy, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The public can get involved in  through the UM Rescue-a-Reef program, where citizen scientists help plant nursery-grown corals onto depleted reefs alongside scientists.

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-coral-gardening-benefiting-caribbean-reefs...

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Cook Islands creates huge Pacific Ocean reserve

14 July 2017 - The Cook Islands has created one of the world's largest marine sanctuaries, protecting a vast swathe of the Pacific Ocean more than three times the size of France.

14 July 2017 - The Cook Islands has created one of the world's largest marine sanctuaries, protecting a vast swathe of the Pacific Ocean more than three times the size of France.

Legislation setting up the 1.9 million square kilometre (735,000 square mile) reserve passed through the tiny nation's parliament late Thursday.

Environmentalist Kevin Iro, who first proposed the idea more than five years ago, said it was a landmark achievement that would help preserve the ocean for future generations.

"It's a historic time, particularly because everyone supported it, including our traditional leaders who spearheaded the whole thing," he told AFP.

The Cook Islands has a population of just 10,000 and its 15 islands have a combined landmass of 236 sq km, barely the size of Washington DC.

But its isolated position in the Pacific, about halfway between New Zealand and Hawaii with no near neighbours, means it has a huge maritime territory.

Iro said Cook Islanders had an affinity with the ocean and viewed it as sacred but overfishing and pollution had damaged the marine environment, including the coral reefs that once ringed all the .

He said the marine reserve, known as Marae Moana, would give the environment a chance to heal, allowing the islanders to protect their legacy.

"When I moved back here (from New Zealand) about 16 years ago I saw what was happening to the lagoons and reefs and really wanted to protect them for my kids," he said.

"I want them to have the same experience I did as a boy growing up."

The idea is not to ban commercial fishing or mineral exploration outright, but to ensure it is carried out in a sustainable manner.

However, there will be a core no-fishing zone totalling about 320,000 sq km, extending 50 nautical miles from the coastline of each island.

Prime Minister Henry Puna said Marae Moana provided a blueprint for managing ocean environments worldwide.

"Together we had a vision to turn our little country into the cleanest and greenest tourism destination in the whole wide world," the Cook Islands News quoted him as telling parliament.

"We not only recognise that the  brings us revenue in terms of fishery and tourism and potentially sea bed minerals -– it also provides us with clean air, clean water, and clean food to nourish and sustain us."

CONTINUE READING: https://phys.org/news/2017-07-cook-islands-huge-pacific-ocean.html