The world’s oceans are in crisis. Nearly 90 per cent of global fish stocks are over or fully exploited. Only 3 per cent of ocean waters are protected. Marine scientists and international organizations agree that at least 30 per cent must be protected to preserve and protect the sea’s special places and ensure healthy fish stocks.
Still, there are bright spots. French Polynesia in the South Pacific Ocean is one such place. Spanning an area equal to the land size of the European Union, the waters surrounding these islands are home to some of the world’s healthiest and largest fish populations. Much of this is because industrial fishing here has been limited—less than half of French Polynesia’s waters are fished. And the fishing that does take place is done only by Polynesians who do not use fishing nets that harm underwater habitats. With 5 million square kilometers of ocean, French Polynesia has an opportunity to protect a vast area. Establishing marine protected areas before it is too late would help ensure the health of fish stocks throughout its territorial waters. These areas would foster a healthy marine environment for corals, whales, sharks, and turtles—species that are important to Polynesian culture and to ecotourism.
The Pew Charitable Trusts, through the Global Ocean Legacy project, is working with governments, fishermen, scientists, civic associations, and local communities around the world to help create large marine reserves for the long-term health of our oceans. In French Polynesia, Pew is joining with officials and the public in an effort to help implement the government’s commitment to protect at least 20 per cent of Polynesian waters by 2020. By engaging a wide range of people, we hope to identify conservation approaches that have broad support and honor traditional Polynesian wisdom. One of these is the rahui—the age-old practice of restricting access to an area for conservation purposes.
French Polynesia’s waters are a bright spot in our ocean. We invite you to celebrate this special place through Benjamin Bécue’s illustrations. We hope these illustrations, created in collaboration with Pew’s team in French Polynesia, will inspire readers of all ages to discover how marine protected areas can protect French Polynesia’s unique waters for generations to come.