Gabon Announces World's Newest Underwater Reserve

Gabon Announces World's Newest Underwater Reserve

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The central African nation declares almost a quarter of its territorial sea off-limits to commercial fishing, creating a first-of-its-kind network of marine protected areas in the region

Enric Sala / National Geographic

The new Gabon marine protected area network complements an existing terrestrial protected area system anchored by 13 national parks created in 2002.

When Gabon's President Ali Bongo Ondimba declared that the African nation was protecting almost one-quarter of its Atlantic Ocean territorial waters, home to dozens of species of threatened whales, dolphins, sharks and turtles, the worldwide reaction was positive and instantaneous.

"Gabon's President has assured the conservation of the globally-important breeding populations," said Hugo Rainey of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

"Not even in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that waters held such an abundance of marine life," said explorer Enric Sala of the National Geographic Society.

"On behalf of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, I commend President Ali Bongo Ondimba. This action underscores Gabon's leadership on this vital issue," Dan Asha, director of the United States agency, said in a statement.

The announcement comes less than two months after the Obama Administration established the largest marine reserve in the world by expanding an existing monument around U.S.-controlled islands and atolls in the central Pacific.