WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- 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.
There were similar reactions throughout the world, with conservationists noting that Gabon historically is a world leader in protecting wildlife. The new marine parks, totaling 18,000 square miles (46,000 square kilometers), constitute 23 percent of Gabon's territorial waters and exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and are the maritime partners of Gabon's massive system of land parks. In 2002, Gabon created 13 national parks, more than 10 percent of its land mass, now grown to about 13 percent.
President Ali Bongo Ondimba announced the new maritime parks at the recent World Parks Congress in Australia, pointing out that the rich ecosystem waters will restrict commercial fishing while guaranteeing community fishing zones, important to Gabonese livelihoods.
The maritime parks system, he said, "will include a 27,000 square kilometer extension of Mayumba National Park, extending out to the limit of our EEZ. The remainder of the EEZ will be divided into community and commercial fishing zones and oil exclusion zones, where industrial fishing is not allowed close to strategic infrastructure."
Gabon's conservation initiative follows action by the United States in September creating a vast marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean.
U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, meeting with President Bongo in August, also presented the Gabon Maritime Assessment and Strategy plan, a framework for Gabon's maritime security that fosters a continuing partnership between U.S. and Gabonese maritime forces.
SOURCE Embassy of the Gabonese Republic