In November 2013, French Polynesia’s government committed to protecting at least 20 percent of the French territory’s waters by 2020. More than 50 local organizations voiced support for this goal at a June 2014 event celebrating the local visit of the Hokule’a—the traditional Polynesian vessel and its crew that stopped in Tahiti as part of its travels from Hawaii across the Pacific to promote ocean protection.
The Austral Islands, the southernmost archipelago in French Polynesia, present a great opportunity for conservation. They benefit from extraordinarily rich marine ecosystems, and their people have long sought to protect their environmental legacy. In 2014, municipal councils of the five inhabited islands called for the creation of a large marine protected area (MPA) surrounding the Australs. The government listened and announced in November at the World Parks Congress in Sydney that it intended to establish a large MPA in those waters.
Earlier that year, French Polynesia invited The Pew Charitable Trusts to conduct a detailed scientific inventory of the Austral Islands’ marine environment and examine the relationship between the islands and life in the surrounding waters. This interdisciplinary report is the result, produced with input from a wide range of experts. It is intended to serve as a foundation of knowledge to help define the conservation measures that the government and local communities will consider.