SYDNEY - Australia plans to add an area of the Indian Ocean bigger than France or the U.S. state of Texas to its network of marine parks.
A reserve would be set up around Christmas Island, which is about 1,500 kilometers west of the Australian mainland. The island houses a high-profile Australian offshore immigration center for asylum seekers and is also well known for a spectacular annual migration of millions of red crabs.
The region is the only known spawning ground for the critically endangered southern bluefin tuna.
The other marine sanctuary would encompass the Cocos Keeling Islands. The coral archipelago is another Australian external territory and is home to about 600 residents. The islands lie about halfway between the city of Perth and the South Asian island nation of Sri Lanka.
Christmas Island and the Cocos Keeling Islands are considered by experts to be biodiversity hot spots in the Indian Ocean, which is under pressure from industrial fishing, climate change and pollution.
The proposed marine parks would cover a combined area up to 740,000 square kilometers of ocean. It has the support of many environmental groups.
Christabel Mitchell, the national director of the Save Our Marine Life Alliance, told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. the group welcomes the plan.
"This is a very exciting opportunity," Mitchell said. "This commitment by the Morrison government is of global significance. These are the world's next big marine parks. This could cover an area twice the size of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and be a huge step forward towards protecting our national marine treasures."
Australian authorities are starting talks with the island communities and the commercial fishing sector.
Australia has established 60 marine parks around the country. Officials say they help conserve habitats and the various species that rely on them.