Editor's note: This is the second part of an op-ed from Carlotta Leon Guerrero. This piece was originally published by Grist.org.
The greatest biological outcomes come from fully protected areas where all forms of fishing are restricted, like in the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, which comprises 80% of Palau’s national waters. There are also benefits to restricting the most damaging forms of fishing, like on the other side of the ocean in Chile, where the Rapa Nui people recently agreed to restrict industrial fishing in the entirety of their biologically unique waters, and only allow traditional artisanal fishing.
At the same time, a group of Island Voices ambassadors has formed, coming from Palau, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Hawaii, New Zealand, Australia, New Caledonia, French Polynesia, and Rapa Nui. The group includes artists, educators, fishers, former government officials, and traditional voyagers, who are committed to protecting the unique identity of the Pacific and its islands and are working together to link traditional values with modern decision-making.
It’s a start, but if we are going to save the rich ecological abundance of the Pacific for future generations, we will have to think even bigger, working toward protecting 30% of the Pacific. Today, just under 5% of the ocean is designated within the confines of a marine protected area, and only about half of that area is fully or strongly protected, ensuring the strongest benefits to people and nature. Much of this real estate stretches across the Pacific.
We have reached the point in human history where we can impact every inch of the ocean and at every depth. In the next decade, we need to ramp up the area of ocean we protect, but we must also address sustainable fishing and environmental justice in the places where we allow fishing. And this will all be for nothing if we do not reduce carbon emissions and other forms of pollution — especially plastic.
It’s daunting, yes, but it’s possible: Just look at the example that has been set by the leaders in the Pacific, where a constellation of small island nations is leading the way toward a healthy and resilient ocean for our generations to come.
Carlotta Leon Guerrero, a former Guam senator, is the executive director of the Ayuda Foundation. Since 2018, she has been a Pew Bertarelli ocean ambassador.