Palau is to create the world’s first “shark sanctuary”, banning all commercial shark fishing in its waters.
The President of the tiny Pacific republic, Johnson Toribiong, announced the sanctuary during Friday’s session of the UN General Assembly.
With half of the world’s oceanic sharks at risk of extinction, conservationists regard the move as “game-changing”.
It will protect about 600,000 sq km (230,000 sq miles) of ocean, an area about the size of France.
President Toribiong also called for a global ban on shark-finning, the practice of removing the fins at sea.
As many as 100 million sharks are killed each year around the world.
“These creatures are being slaughtered and are perhaps at the brink of extinction unless we take positive action to protect them,” said President Toribiong.
“Their physical beauty and strength, in my opinion, reflects the health of the oceans; they stand out,” he told BBC News from UN headquarters in New York.
The president also called for an end to bottom-trawling, a fishing method that can destroy valuable seafloor ecosystems such as coral reefs.
A number of developed nations have implemented catch limits and restrictions on shark finning.
Some developing countries such as The Maldives have also taken measures to protect the creatures; but Palau’s initiative takes things to a new level, according to conservationists close to the project.
“Palau has recognised how important sharks are to healthy marine environments,” said Matt Rand, director of global shark conservation at the Pew Environment Group.
“And they’ve decided to do what no other nation has done and declare their entire Exclusive Economic Zone a shark sanctuary.
“They are leading the world in shark conservation.”
Mr Rand said that about 130 threatened species of shark frequented waters close to Palau and would be likely to gain from the initiative.
Although the country has only 20,000 inhabitants, its territory encompasses 200 scattered islands, which means that its territorial waters are much bigger than many nations a thousand times more populous….