Ivory Coast initiated its first protected marine area on Monday to protect sharks and turtles from overfishing near the West African country’s coastline.
The marine conservation area, spanning more than 1,000 square miles (2590 square km) off the town of Grand-Bereby, is part of an effort to bring Ivory Coast’s marine conservation efforts in line with U.N. targets, the government said.
Larger than the commercial capital of Abidjan, the area is home to sea-bed creatures, coral reefs and tropical fish, and is important nesting and foraging ground for turtles, including the vulnerable leatherback.
The area will also “undoubtedly boost local tourism, creating jobs for the benefit of the community,” the environment ministry said in statement last week.
It is the first of five marine protected areas that Ivory Coast has pledged to create in its Atlantic waters.
The United Nations is pushing governments to collectively set aside 30% of the planet’s land and sea areas for conservation when they meet next year in China to negotiate a new global wildlife pact. Scientists have said the world may need more than 30% to survive, if not thrive.
“Levels of marine protection in West Africa are generally low, so the Ivorian government’s creation of a Marine Protected Area is a big statement that will hopefully act as a regional exemplar,” Kristian Metcalfe, marine conservation scientist at Exeter University, said in a statement on Sunday.
Researchers from the university helped Ivory Coast prepare the project by collecting data on the area’s marine animals, plants and the health of its waters. The work included surveying previously undocumented reefs and tagging turtles with GPS monitors.
The area includes a fully protected zone closed to all activities, and an eco-development zone that will support sustainable fishing practices and ecotourism activities, according to the university.
West Africa is one of the regions worst-affected by illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing that is driving several species towards extinction and jeopardising local livelihoods, according to a 2016 study by Overseas Development Institute researchers.