On World Oceans Day last month, June 8, French President Emmanuel Macron kept his 2019 pledge to permanently protect the archipelago as a national nature reserve. The new reserve includes more than 43,000 square kilometers (16,600 square miles) of territorial waters, an area slightly larger than Denmark, and 4.3 square kilometers (1.6 square miles) of land. All mining is prohibited in the reserve, and fishing, research and other human activities are strictly regulated so as not to undermine the integrity of the ecosystems.
The Glorioso Archipelago National Nature Reserve comprises three fully protected areas covering approximately 11,000 square kilometers (4,250 square miles) around three islands of the archipelago: Glorioso, Banc du Geyser and Banc de la Cordelière. All types of fishing and extraction activities, such as mining, are prohibited in these areas.
With the creation of the reserve, France has now highly protected 1.6% of its waters in the world. This shows the growing awareness of the French government of the value and importance of highly protective waters, long cited by scientists as essential for effectively conserving marine ecosystems. Although this announcement brings France closer to its commitment to strongly protect at least 10% of its waters by 2022, important work remains to be done to achieve this objective.
Conservation International includes the Glorioso Islands on its list of 36 global biodiversity hotspots. The waters of the islands, which have approximately 450 square kilometers (174 square miles) of reef cover home to more than 2,500 species, are a key breeding site for green and hawksbill turtles, humpback whales and several species of seabirds. .
However, more than 500 species in this area are considered threatened, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It is estimated that the region has lost nearly 70% of its species due to strong anthropogenic pressures, including extractive activities, pollution and overfishing, exacerbated by the effects of climate change. The new protections should help the ecosystems and fauna of the Glorious Islands to recover while also benefiting the biodiversity of the surrounding region.
Jérôme Petit is based in France and directs the work of the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project in French Polynesia and in the French Southern and Antarctic Lands.