Tiny Island Has Innovative Plan to Protect the Ocean

Pacific island Niue wants people to sponsor oceans
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 23, 2023 2:00 PM CDT
Island's Plan to Conserve Ocean: Get Sponsors
A tail of a humpback whale breaks the water in Niue in this 2018 photo.   (Richard Sidey/Galaxiid via AP)

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, launched by Niue's Prime Minister Dalton Tagelagi on Tuesday in New York, individuals or companies can pay $148 to protect 1 square kilometer (about 250 acres) of ocean from threats such as illegal fishing and plastic waste for a period of 20 years. Niue hopes to raise more than $18 million from the scheme by selling 127,000 square-kilometer units, representing the 40% of its waters that form a no-take marine protected area. "Niue is just one island in the middle of the big blue ocean," Tagelagi said. "We are surrounded by the ocean, and we live off the ocean. That's our livelihood."

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's 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. Niue is especially vulnerable to rising sea levels threatening its land and freshwater, and the island is at risk of more intense tropical storms charged by warmer air and waters. With a population of just 1,700 people, Niue acknowledges it needs outside help, reports the AP.

It's 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. (Read how the ocean is changing color).

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