A marine reserve about 600 miles northeast of New Zealand will get much, much bigger if Prime Minister John Key has his way. Just how big? Well, the Kermadec ocean sanctuary will stretch for 240,000 square miles—an area twice the size of New Zealand's landmass—if government legislation to establish the fully-protected reserve passes next year, Key told a United Nations summit Monday. Given its massive size—the reserve will be one of the largest in the world and cover 15% of the country’s exclusive economic zone—it's no surprise it'll be home to some 35 species of whales and dolphins who breed there, 150 kinds of fish, and three species of sea turtle, reports the Guardian. But the sanctuary in the South Pacific will also house the world's longest chain of underwater volcanoes and an ocean trench so deep that it could hide Mount Everest.
As a fully-protected sanctuary, there will be no fishing, mining, or oil, gas, and mineral prospecting allowed. "The mining resources are potentially very, very large there because there are unknown quantities of silver and other resources," Key says, per CNN. But it's more important "to protect what is, from a geological perspective, a very important and significant part of the world." Reactions online have been mostly positive, though the executive director of Greenpeace New Zealand suspects the announcement is to distract from the country's plan to cut carbon emissions by 11% from 1990 levels by 2030; other countries are pledging cuts of 30% to 40%. "On the one hand, they're establishing this wonderful area and on the one hand, they're completely undermining it," she says. If the sanctuary is established, 1.35 million square miles would be protected in the Pacific. (Read more New Zealand stories.)