Is a Vast Marine Sanctuary Any Use if You Can’t Police It?

TIME

Correction appended, July 1, 2014

For the first half of June — until the U.S. declared an even bigger one — the tiny, French semiautonomous territory of New Caledonia boasted the largest nature reserve on earth.

Covering a vast 1.3 million-sq-km region of the South Pacific, the Natural Park of the Coral Sea was established on May 28 to protect the world’s second largest coral reef and its attendant lagoon. Already safeguarded in parts by a UNESCO World Heritage listing, this wonderland is a nursery for 25 kinds of marine mammals (including sea cows and humpback whales), 48 species of shark and five different marine turtles. It also spawns vast numbers of pelagic fish, 3,000 tons of which make it into the Pacific every year – an important food source for tens of millions, and a source of employment for thousands of people living in the region.

But before most…

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