The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has welcomed the establishment by US President Barack Obama of the largest nature reserve in the world, done through expanding a marine reserve in the state of Hawaii.
“This decision is a powerful symbol of determination to protect the environment. It is a way to strengthen the resilience of societies threatened by climate change, to understand and protect the natural ecosystems on which our lives depend,” UNESCO’s Director-General, Irina Bokova, said in a statement released on Monday.
Located roughly 250 kilometres northwest of the main Hawaiian archipelago, the marine reserve Papahanaumokuakea was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2010 for its rich biodiversity, considered to be unparalleled in the world. The archipelago is home to more than a fifth of known fish species.
The marine reserve has now been quadrupled in size, and the expansion comes just days before the opening of International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’ (IUCN) World Conservation Congress, also taking place in Hawaii.
“This is a strong reminder of the fundamental role of the ocean, its fauna and flora, to life on earth, just days before the opening of IUCN Congress on 1 September, in Honolulu,” Ms. Bokova said. “I see this as a call to the international community to commit fully to sustainable development and the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement adopted in 2015.”
According to UNESCO, the Papahanaumokuakea reserve also has deep cultural significance. The Hawaiian people view the site as the embodiment of the concept of kinship between people and the natural world, and as the place where it is believed that life originates and to where spirits return after death.
The marine reserve also includes archaeological remains related to settlement and land use in pre-European times, and it stretches almost 2,000 kilometres from its southeast to its northwest limits.