Kiribati is an island nation, a string of coral atolls and 33 islands, only 21 of which are inhabited, draped across the equator in the Central Pacific almost midway between Hawaii and Australia. It is remote, and the population few and poor. Despite that, Kiribati just created the world’s largest marine protected area.
The new Phoenix Island Protected Area covers 158,453 square miles (410,500 square kilometers) of the Central Pacific that is home to one of the richest marine feeding and spawning areas in the world. It includes a coral archipelago, two submerged reef systems and deep sea habitat, including underwater mountains.
Kiribati and the New England Aquarium developed the new protected area over several years of joint scientific research, with funding and technical assistance from Conservation International’s (CI) Global Conservation Fund and Pacific Islands Program.
Research expeditions from the New England Aquarium have documented more than 120 species of coral and 520 species of fish in the area. Nesting seabirds, healthy fish populations and the presence of both sea turtles and marine mammals confirm this remarkable site as an important migration route.
“This is a major milestone for marine conservation efforts in the Pacific and for island biodiversity,” CI President Russell Mittermeier said. “The Republic of Kiribati has shown unprecedented vision for long-term conservation of its precious marine biodiversity. We are proud to be associated with this effort.”
The new protected area is a critical part of conservation efforts globally to benefit species and people. The world’s oceans yield fresh water and oxygen to the atmosphere, help combat climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide, and provide a home for most forms of life.
The Global Conservation Fund (GCF) 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. GCF 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.