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Protecting Paradise: Niue's effort to preserve 40% of its waters

Beveridge reef

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — A new film from National Geographic, 'Protecting Paradise: The Story of Niue', promises to provide a glimmer of hope amongst negative environmental news.

The documentary, now out on Disney+ follows a group of community members from Niue who have put nearly half their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) in a marine protected area (MPA).

Moana Mahu Marine Protected Area covers 127,000 square kilometres, about half the size of New Zealand. It includes Beveridge Reef which is home to the highest density of grey reef sharks in the world.

Niue's Ocean Wide project manager and the interim secretariat for the Niuean Ocean Wide Trust NOW, Brendon Pasisi, said there's been an improvement in biodiversity since the area was made a no-go zone for commercial fishing in 2020.

"There have been some good signs of biodiversity uplift, there's been some identification of a range of new species, one deep sea species that's never been documented anywhere in the world before," Pasisi said.

The documentary was shot and produced by National Geographic's Pristine Seas in 2023 - an exploration, research and media project that supports the creation of MPAs around the world. The team first visited Niue in 2016.

Pasisi said the film creates a good "benchmark" for what the health of the ocean should be like.

"When [locals] see the documentary, [they] see the fish life and the vibrance of the coral reef and stuff like that, they can relate back to what it was like here on the island 30, 40 plus years ago.

"That's the challenge for us now, for areas around the island, to try to get them back towards that direction."

Pasisi said the expedition included a chartered vessel and 15 prominent scientists.

"They collected all the science ranging from the reef fisheries, water samples, plastics and other things, all the way down to 2000 meters deep.

"Seven or so years on they returned to do a follow up expedition, in the hope that it would show some positive changes from having that area locked up for the last three or four years."

"What we're doing here, it's not only for Niueans, but we're showing to the rest of the world that it can be done," Niue's Premier Dalton Tagelagi told National Geographic about his nation'sconservation efforts.

"Yes we are small, but we're showing the way."

Co-executive producer of the film Mags Miller said it's a story of Niue and its marine conservation efforts.

"In a way it's a love story about Niue and the incredible work that it's doing in the world of marine conservation."

Miller said to make the film, crew were embedded in Niue for the month of July 2023.

"Following the lead of the local community is really important," she said.

"I think it's very much led by the Niue people as far as their conservation, what is important to them and really just allowing a space for them to share their story."

Pasisi said the documentary is a "tremendous opportunity and privilege" for Niue.