Niue, a Pacific atoll, seeks sponsors to protect its vast ocean territory

Stephen Wright
Niue, a Pacific atoll, seeks sponsors to protect its vast ocean territory A humpback whale and calf swim in the waters in Niue in this 2018 photo. Niue is raising funds for ocean conservation by asking sponsors to pay US$148 to protect a square kilometer area of sea.
Richard Sidey/Galaxiid via AP

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 U.S. $18 million. A sponsorship costs U.S. $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 PM.jpg
Premier of Niue Dalton Tagelagi performs a brief haka before speaking during the World Wildlife Fund's "Nature and People: Ambition to Action" event in New York on Sept. 19, 2023, on the sidelines of the 78th United Nations General Assembly. [Zak Bennett/AFP]

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 miles) 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. 


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