Many Pacific islands face an uncertain future as falling fish stocks have severely limited one of their most important sources of traditional income. Some have had to ban commercial fishing of threatened species entirely. Now, however, thanks to an influx of tourists from around the world, many of the islands are turning the former fishing grounds into marine sanctuaries and reaping the economic benefits.
In February 2014, President Tommy Remengesau of Palau, a country of 20,000 people spread across 250 islands, announced that all commercial fishing in the 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone around the islands would be banned in order to create a marine sanctuary, which will enable Palau to promote snorkelling, scuba diving and ecotourism as an alternative way to grow its economy. The president, a former fisherman, explained that a live shark was worth $1.9 million as a tourist attraction while a dead one was worth just a few hundred dollars.
Fiji’s Shark Reef Marine Reserve has been operating since 2002 as a no-fishing zone and is now an important self-sustaining shark observation diving site, generating income for local villages which have given up their former fishing rights in exchange for diver fees. It is not only sharks that are feeling the benefits. In Taveuni, the third-largest island in Fiji, fishing was banned in 1998 off the coral reef at Waitabu as a result of overfishing and damaged coral. A recent survey has shown that thanks to the establishment of a marine sanctuary there, the fish are more plentiful and the coral reef is, once again, growing.