The establishment of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), the largest such area in the world, in January 2008 may have marked the start of a trend, according to project leaders.
“I believe there’s going to be a bit of a race now to protect these areas,” said Greg Stone, vice president, Global Marine Programs, New England Aquarium
, at a press event on PIPA held recently in Boston.
Stone helped initiate the drive to protect the marine area surrounding the Phoenix Islands, which are part of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati near the equator between Hawaii and Fiji.
During his first visit to the area as part of an expeditionary team in 2000, Stone was awed by the pristine quality of the reefs and the large quantity and variety of marine life, he said, and knew that it should be protected. He and the other project leaders ultimately turned to Conservation International
(CI) and the Global Conservation Fund for technical and financial support in the effort.
The result was a 410,500-square-kilometer (158,543-square-mile) protected area that not only shelters one of the richest and most pristine marine areas in the world, but also has drawn the attention of other countries that control large marine environments.
Stone and Kiribati’s President Anote Tong say they believe other countries will follow suit.
“I also feel confident that this is the beginning of a movement in the Pacific area,” said Tong at a Sept. 22 award dinner held in his honor at the New England Aquarium.
Stone said he was contacted by the White House recently for an update on the Phoenix Islands project and lessons learned from dealing with the fishing industry, as the United States considers creating a park near PIPA.
“It really spoke to me volumes that Kiribati is really way ahead of the game here, and how the rest of the world that has possessions in this part of planet Earth is playing catch up,” Stone said.
The New England Aquarium presented Tong with the David B. Stone Conservation Medal in recognition of his efforts to establish PIPA.
“We see the need to preserve the biodiversity,” said Tong. “We are giving this forward as a contribution to global diversity. We want to share this.”
Kiribati is working with CI’s Pacific Islands Program and the New England Aquarium to create a management plan and to develop long-term financing for the reserve.
“[The oceans] really are the most important natural feature on the planet, and they’re in trouble. There’s no question at all that they’re in trouble. Ninety percent of all the large fish are gone from the oceans today,” Stone said. “We need to take drastic, immediate and comprehensive steps to save the oceans.”