New Caledonia agreed on Tuesday to protect some of the world's last nearly untouched coral reefs, which were hailed by conservationists as a major breakthrough.
The Pacific Overseas Territory is home to a wealth of wildlife, including 2.5 million seabirds and over 9,300 marine species such as dugongs ̵
After years of work, the government of New Caledonia decided on Tuesday to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that surround the reefs and to reinforce an existing one around Entrecasteaux, which is already a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The move will save 28,000 square kilometers (10,810 square miles) of waters protected from commercial and industrial fishing and other uses from habitat conservation and allow the reproduction and reproduction of marine animals.
Also the activities around the reefs are more strictly controlled.
New Caledonia had 27,000 visits to the South Pacific Tourism Organization in the first three months of the year, accounting for about six percent of travel to the South Pacific region.
"This is the kind of leadership we see in coral reef conservation and we welcome it," said John Tanzer, the head of the oceans for WWF International.
"With good management, these marine reserves will help preserve the fish populations and health of the ecosystem, enhancing the resilience of the reef against the effects of climate change in the future."
Christophe Chevillon, head of the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy in New Caledonia, which helped draft the plans, said it would raise the area as a world leader in marine protection, but more could be done.
"Although we believe this is a major breakthrough, we are convinced that New Caledonia can go further and pave the way for other Pacific countries," he told AFP
"In fact, the protected 28,000 square kilometers only make up two percent Coral Sea Natural Park. "
The MPAs fall in New Caledonia's vast 1.3 million square-kilometer Coral Sea Natural Park, which in 2014 covers the entire Exclusive Economic Zone of the country.
Protective measures such as restricting transport and prohibiting shark, turtle and whaling are not as extensive as under MPA.
Coral reefs, which contain only 0.1 percent of the ocean surface, which houses a quarter of known marine species, is threatened worldwide by climate change, pollution and overfishing.
The WWF estimates that the world has already lost about half of its shallow-water coral reefs
More stringent protection measures in New Caledonia in the South Pacific should protect virtually untouched coral reefs