Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area earns global spotlight as largest
World Heritage site on Earth
Brasilia, Brazil – A pristine island chain and marine
wilderness in the tiny Central Pacific nation of Kiribati has received
international recognition as one of the most unique and environmentally
significant places on Earth by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and
Cultural Organization (UNESCO), and has ushered in a new era of large-scale
That is according to Conservation International (CI) and the New England
Aquarium, who partnered with the Republic of Kiribati in creating the Phoenix
Islands Protected Area (PIPA), which recently earned inscription by UNESCO as
one of five new, natural World Heritage sites for its "pristine nature and
importance as a migration route and reservoir".
"This is the direct result of a phenomenal commitment by a tiny country, and
deft diplomatic skill in building alliances to make it a reality. Kiribati
deserves major recognition and support from the rest of the world," said Dr.
Russ Mittermeier, CI's President who attended the World Heritage meeting in
Brazil, and was among those advocating for World Heritage status.
Bud Ris, President and CEO of the New England Aquarium added, "The UNESCO
designation of the Phoenix Islands as a World Heritage site only confirms the
experience of all those that have visited there, which is that its coral reef
ecosystems are among the most pristine and awe-inspiring on the planet."
Delegates representing the Phoenix Islands Protected Area received notice of
the prestigious designation from the World Heritage Committee on Sunday in
Brasilia, Brazil, during its 34th session. The affirmative decision makes PIPA
the largest and deepest World Heritage site in the world, covering an ocean
territory more than 408,000 km2 (nearly 250,000 mi2, or
roughly the size of California) and 6000 meters deep.
Kiribati President Anote Tong, celebrated the listing, and explained why his
country pursued World Heritage status. "For millennia, we have been an ocean
people, depending on its many gifts and resources for our survival, but we
believe its treasures are to be protected and shared for the long-term benefit
of people everywhere. In this regard the Phoenix Islands Protected Area is our
gift to humanity."
Located about half way between Australia and Hawaii and just south of the
equator, the nearly uninhabited Phoenix Islands form an archipelago several
hundred miles long. They are part of the Republic of Kiribati, which comprises
three low-lying island groups (the Gilbert, Phoenix, and Line Islands) which
together cover a land area of only 811 km2 spread over 33 islands,
but an ocean territory of over 3.5 million km2, making it the largest
atoll nation in the world.
Within the Phoenix Islands Protected Area lie eight of these atolls, two
submerged reef systems, approximately 14 submerged seamounts (underwater
mountains) as well as deep-sea and open-ocean environments which have been
described as among the most isolated and free from human impact left on the
planet, resembling what the ocean might have looked like a thousand years ago.
The area is teeming with healthy and endemic marine life, which includes more
than 200 types of coral, 500 unique fish species, 18 marine mammals and 44 bird
species, identified so far. Among them are numerous species of apex predators
such as sharks, tens of thousands of nesting seabirds, and threatened species in
record numbers, like the Napoleon wrasse.
Developed after several years of joint scientific research and collaboration
by the Republic of Kiribati in partnership with the New England Aquarium and CI,
the Phoenix Islands Protected Area receives funding and technical assistance
from the Global Conservation Fund
(GCF) at CI, the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF),
and other donors. It stands as the largest marine protected area in the entire
Pacific Ocean and the second largest in the world.
"Kiribati has led the way and created the momentum globally for the creation
of several more large marine protected areas," Ris added. "The whole world owes
them our thanks for their vision and commitment."
Also inscribed to the World Heritage List was PIPA's sister site and American
territory, the Papahanamoukeakea Marine National Monument in the Hawaiian
Islands, the first U.S. site added to World Heritage List in 15 years. Their
tandem designation by UNESCO represents a long-awaited international recognition
of the value of marine protected areas.
"The fact that we have two mega-marine areas, one in a tiny developing
country and one in the world biggest economy, working side-by-side to conserve
their collective marine treasures is phenomenally important," said Mittermeier.
"It demonstrates that marine protected areas are finally getting their day in
the sun as a tool for ocean management, and a new chapter of human cooperation
for the ocean's health."
Management and enforcement of the marine protected area will be financed
through its own resources, secured grants and a new endowment system which will
cover recurring management costs for the area and compensate the government for
lost commercial fishing revenue, in perpetuity.
"With threats that include global climate change accelerating a rise in sea
levels and ocean acidification, our way of life, our culture, our people and our
nation are under threat," said President Tong. "With World Heritage inscription,
PIPA can now remain a natural laboratory where scientists can study the impact
of climate change in the absence of other man-made factors like pollution and
urbanization, and that may help us all in adapting to the impacts of global
For Conservation International's Senior Vice President of Marine Conservation
Dr. Greg Stone, it's an unprecedented scientific opportunity.
"I have explored the Phoenix Islands area three times in the past ten years,
and discovered some of its incredible biodiversity. But as CI's Chief Ocean
Scientist, I can confidently say that we have only scratched the tip of the
surface in terms of our understanding of its biological treasures. There is so
much more still to uncover, which is what makes this World Heritage designation
so valuable and so exciting."
PHOTOS available for the Media: http://bit.ly/cNcGsN
B-ROLL VIDEO available for the media: ftp://ftp.conservation.org/Guest/
Subfolder: ___PIPA Video (at top of the list)
For more information:
U.S. Media Manager, Conservation International
703-341-2546; mobile: 202-203-9927
Media Relations Director, New England Aquarium
Wharf, Boston, MA 02110
617-877-6871 (C); 617-973-5213 (W)
Note to editors:
Conservation International (CI): Building upon a strong
foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers
societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature for the well-being of
humanity. With headquarters in Washington, DC, CI works in more than 40
countries on four continents. For more information, visit www.conservation.org
New England Aquarium: Located on the Boston waterfront, the
New England Aquarium is one of the most prominent and popular aquariums in the
United States. Beyond its exhibit halls, the Aquarium is also a leading ocean
conservation organization with research scientists working around the globe,
biologists rescuing stranded marine animals in New England and staff consulting
with the major seafood businesses to promote sustainable fisheries. For more
Global Conservation Fund (GCF): 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 49 partners to help protect nearly 80 million hectares of the world's
biologically richest land and seascapes. www.conservation.org/gcf
The Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund is a joint
initiative of l'Agence Française de Développement, Conservation International,
the Global Environment Facility, the Government of Japan, the John D. and
Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and the World Bank. A fundamental goal is to
ensure civil society is engaged in biodiversity conservation. www.cepf.net