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Vast Ocean Reserve Conserves Vital Resources for Human Well-Being

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A beautiful green moray eel emerges from reef in Phoenix Islands

A beautiful green moray eel emerges from reef in Phoenix Islands. Divers from the New England Aquarium in Boston found some of the most pristine coral reefs in the world.

Spectacular table corals of the Phoenix Islands

Spectacular table corals that take decades to form are found throughout the shallow water coral reefs of the Phoenix Islands. These types of corals can be easily destroyed by commercial fishing activity.

Two green sea turtles celebrating nature's version of Valentine's Day

Two green sea turtles are celebrating nature's version of Valentine's Day! Sea turtle populations in the Pacific are in dramatic decline due to by-catch in much commercial fishin gactivity. The new Phoenix Islands Protected Area will provide an important habitat reserve for hese turtles, which can weigh several hundred pounds as adults.

A manta ray swims near two divers on a New England Aquarium scientific expedition to the Phoenix Islands

A manta ray swims near two divers on a New England Aquarium scientific expedition to the Phoenix Islands. These gentle gians can reach a wing span of twenty feet. Despite their size, manta rays feed on tiny plankton.

A school of brass striped barracuda swims by New England Aquarium divers

A school of brass striped barracuda swims by New England Aquarium divers. As they entered the waters of the Phoenix Islands, they were awed by the high density of a number of species.

Phoenix Islands provide an ideal shark nursery ground

The shallow, remote coral reef systems of the Phoenix Islands provide an ideal shark nursery ground. When New England Aquarium scientists first dove here, they were struck by the abundance and curiosity of the sharks. Unfortunately, subsequent expeditions saw fewer sharks as a result of illegal shark fishing.

BOSTON, MA - February 14, 2008
The small Pacific Island nation of Kiribati has become a global conservation leader by establishing the world’s largest marine protected area – a California-sized ocean wilderness of pristine coral reefs and rich fish populations threatened by over-fishing and climate change.

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) conserves one of the Earth’s last intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems, consisting of eight coral atolls and two submerged reef systems in a nearly uninhabited region of abundant marine and bird life. The 410,500-square-kilometer (158,453-square-mile) protected area also includes underwater mountains and other deep-sea habitat.

Kiribati first declared the creation of PIPA at the 2006 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Brazil. On Jan. 30, 2008, Kiribati adopted formal regulations for PIPA that more than doubled the original size to make it the largest marine protected area on Earth.

Kiribati and the New England Aquarium (NEAq) developed PIPA over several years of joint scientific research, with funding and technical assistance from Conservation International’s (CI) Global Conservation Fund and Pacific Islands Program. The CI support for PIPA is part of the Coral Reef Initiative in the South Pacific (CRISP).

“Kiribati has taken an inspirational step in increasing the size of PIPA well beyond the original eight atolls and globally important seabird, fish and coral reef communities,” said Greg Stone, the NEAq vice-president of global marine programs. “The new boundary includes extensive seamount and deep sea habitat, tuna spawning grounds, and as yet unsurveyed submerged reef systems.”

Located near the equator in the Central Pacific between Hawaii and Fiji, the Phoenix Islands form an archipelago several hundred miles long. They are part of the Republic of Kiribati, which comprises three distinct island groups (Gilbert Islands, Phoenix Islands and Line Islands) with a total of 33 islands to make it the largest atoll nation in the world.
“The creation of this amazing marine protected area by a small island nation in the Pacific represents a commitment of historic proportions; and all of this by a country that is under serious threat from sea-level rise attributed to global warming,” said CI President Russell A. Mittermeier. “The Republic of Kiribati has now set a standard for other countries in the Pacific and elsewhere in the world. We are proud to be associated with this effort that helps the people of Kiribati, and we call on governments and private conservation groups everywhere to support Kiribati in its efforts and make similar commitments to protect their own natural systems.”

The Phoenix Islands were featured in a major article in National Geographic in February 2004.

Three NEAq-led research expeditions since 2000 found great marine biodiversity, including more than 120 species of coral and 520 species of fish, some new to science. Some of the most important seabird nesting populations in the Pacific, as well as healthy fish populations and the presence of sea turtles and other species, demonstrated the pristine nature of the area and its importance as a migration route.

Protecting the Phoenix Islands means restricting commercial fishing in the area, resulting in a loss of revenue that the Kiribati government would normally receive from issuing foreign commercial fishing licenses. NEAq and CI are helping Kiribati design an endowment system that will cover the core recurring management costs of PIPA and compensate the government for the foregone commercial fishing license revenues. The plan allows for subsistence fishing by resident communities and other sustainable economic development in designated zones of the protected area.

Keeping oceans and marine ecosystems intact and healthy allows them to better resist the impacts of climate change and continue their natural role of sequestering atmospheric carbon that causes global warming.


Photos: Images link to high-resolution photos available for download. All photos: David Obura

Republic of Kiribati
Tebwe Ietaake, + 686-28630,

New England Aquarium
Tony LaCasse, +1-617-877-6871,

Conservation International
Sue Miller Taei, Samoa, +685-21593,
Tom Cohen, +1-703-341-2729,

Conservation International (CI) applies innovations in science, economics, policy and community participation to protect the Earth’s richest regions of plant and animal diversity and demonstrate that human societies can live harmoniously with nature. Founded in 1987, CI works in more than 40 countries on four continents to help people find economic alternatives without harming their natural environments. For more information about CI, visit

The Global Conservation Fund finances the creation, expansion and long-term management of protected areas in the world’s biodiversity hotspots, high-biodiversity wilderness areas and important marine regions. The Fund has enabled CI regional programs and more than 40 partners to help protect 38 million hectares (94 million acres) of the world’s biologically richest land and seascapes.

The New England Aquarium is one of the most prominent and popular aquariums in the United States. Its mission is to present, promote, and protect the world of water. Beyond its exhibit halls, the Aquarium is also a leading ocean conservation organization with research scientists working around the globe and biologists rescuing stranded marine animals in New England.