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Pacific atoll Niue seeks sponsors to protect vast ocean territory

humpback whale (Christopher Michel/WikiCommons)
September 24, 2023

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The Pacific coral atoll of Niue, home to about 1,700 people, lacks the resources to protect its enormous and pristine ocean territory. The possible solution? Sell sponsorships to square kilometer patches of sea. 

Niue’s Prime Minister Dalton Tagelagi announced the plan at a conservation event in New York on Tuesday and said the island nation hopes to raise US$18 million. A sponsorship costs US$148 and there are 127,000 of them available – equating to the size of Niue’s marine protected area. 

“The ocean is everything to us,” Tagelagi said in a statement. “As a small island nation, Niue’s vast marine territory holds immense ecological, cultural, and economic value to our people.” 

Money raised by the sponsorships – known as ocean conservation commitments – will be managed by a government affiliated charitable foundation, Niue and Ocean Wide Trust, according to the Niuean government’s statement. 

The funds will add to what Niue’s government already spends on conservation.

The country’s exclusive economic zone covers about 321,000 square kilometers (124,000 square miles) of sea and its marine conservation area, Niue Moana Mahu, makes up 40% of it. 

The waters are an important breeding ground for humpback whales and have more than 100 species of coral as well as a venomous sea snake only found in Niue’s underwater caves. Dolphins, reef sharks, turtles and other species are also abundant in the largely unexploited seas.

“Niue will now have the ability to implement monitoring and evaluation activities to assess reef health and fish stocks and strengthen coastal management plans for the island’s 14 villages,” Tagelagi said.

Niue, which comprises a single atoll about 100 square miles in area, is a self-governing territory in free association with New Zealand, where about 30,000 Niueans live. 

The United States last year said it would extend diplomatic recognition to Niue and the Cook Islands, which also is in free association with New Zealand, as part of its effort to counter China’s influence in the Pacific. 

In April, China started work on an upgrade of a 46 kilometer (29 mile) ring road on Niue.

Niue said some nongovernmental organizations including Blue Nature Alliance and Conservation International and private donors have already agreed to buy sponsorships. 

Niue’s government also will buy 1,700 sponsorships – one per resident.