New Caledonia is a small island in the Pacific Ocean with a population that's a tiny fraction of New York City's, but the country just created the world's largest natural protected area.
Le Parc Naturel de la Mer de Corail (the Natural Park of the Coral Sea) was officially created last week. No surprise that New Caledonia wants to protect such a huge swath of ocean, as it's home to the second-longest double-barrier coral reef in the world. The entire marine park is 1.3 million square kilometers in size—that's three times the size of Germany.
It's already home to 4,500 square kilometers of coral reef and a variety of animals such as nesting birds, sharks, and marine turtles. Some human use will still be allowed in the area. Jean-Christophe Lefeuvre, Conservation International's program director for New Caledonia, said on CI's blog that the park will be divided into different zones depending on what kind of activities will be allowed there. That could include fishing or tourism, two crucial parts of the island's economy that Lefeuvre hopes will remain sustainable under the park's management.
Although this proactive move is great news to environmental organizations, Jean-Louis d'Auzon, the president of the Association for the Protection of Nature in New Caledonia, warned Radio New Zealand that full protection is not yet guaranteed. Especially concerning is the threat posed by nickel mining, which currently is one of the island's main economic activities. "It could be possible in this reserve to have mining and [other] exploitation," he said. "If it is a reserve, it must be protected."