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June 21, 2012

Maldives to Create World's "Single Largest Marine Reserve"

Announcement is made during the United Nations' Rio+20 Summit.

The phrase “marine reserve” took on a whole new meaning Wednesday, July 20, when Mohamed Waheed, president of Maldives, announced that his island-nation will “become the first country to become a marine reserve.”

Waheed made the remarks during the Rio+20 Summit, an initiative of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development that aims to “reduce poverty, advance social equity and ensure environmental protection on an ever more crowded planet.”

Waheed said the 5-year plan would create the “single largest marine reserve in the world,” according to a report in the Globe and Mail.

A vast archipelago lying south of India in the Indian Ocean, Maldives comprises 1,190 coral islands and encompasses nearly 56,000 square miles. Ninety percent of its territory is sea — and, not surprisingly, fishing ranks as its second-largest industry, only behind tourism.

Yet fishing — at least commercial fishing — would now appear to be off-limits in the country’s waters. But unlike the recent announcement of a vast network of marine reserves surrounding Australia, recreational fishing may still be allowable to some extent in Maldives.

“This policy will allow only sustainable and eco-friendly fishing,” Waheed said. “It will exclude deep-sea, purse-seining and other destructive (trawling) techniques.”

While no further details were available as to just what extent recreational fishing might be impacted, the U.S.-based Pew Environmental Group expressed satisfaction with the announcement. Sue Lieberman, the organization’s deputy director, told the Globe and Mail the actions demonstrated “great commitment.”

 “Technically, a marine reserve is like where there is no extractive use,” she said. “There is no industrial fishing, no mining. It doesn’t mean no recreational fishing or boating. It’s like, on land, having a national park.”

Whether that means an angler can legally keep a sport-caught fish remains to be seen.