Conservation International Pledges Steadfast Support for Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area

9/23/2013

Arlington, Va. – To offer clarity and responses for certain questions and critiques about the status of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) and published in several recent media stories, Conservation International (CI) would like to provide our perspective, offer our assurances and clarify key details about the status of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, commonly known as the PIPA, which covers 408,250 square kilometers of the Pacific Ocean in the Republic of Kiribati. 
 
Legally established in 2008, the PIPA is a large-scale, multi-use marine protected area within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Pacific Island nation of the Republic of Kiribati. Its waters contain some of the healthiest coral reefs and most economically important populations of tuna left in the world’s rapidly depleted oceans, and they together support the people and economy of this Small Island Developing State.
 
The management of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area is guided by integrated decisions that take into account Kiribati's sustainable development and the need to conserve the Phoenix Islands. Its implementation has always been designed to follow a long-term, phased approach and investment that builds Kiribati’s capacity and ensures the necessary resources to manage the PIPA. 
 
The PIPA is currently in the first phase of its agreed management plan, which prioritizes protection for the island, lagoon, reef and coastal environment.  This has been implemented across seven of the eight PIPA islands and accounts for just over three percent of the park - or over 12,000 square kilometers – which have been closed entirely to fishing. While 3% may seem proportionally small, the absolute area (12,000 sq km) is large by global standards and important, protecting 80% of the critical coral reef and island habitats identified. In this phase, Conservation International, through its Global Conservation Fund, has successfully raised and capitalized the Phoenix Islands Protected Area Trust Fund with an initial investment of US $2.5 million​. With the unanimous support of its governing Parliament, the Republic of Kiribati is matching that amount with another US $2.5 million, bringing PIPA’s initial endowment to US $5 million. These funds will provide an income to help manage the PIPA as well as the operation of the PIPA Conservation Trust.
 
The second phase of the management of PIPA, which is on track for completion by the end 2014, will strengthen protection in the PIPA with a target of an additional 25% of the designated as a “no-take” zone for fishing, and plans to increase the endowment to $13.5 million. The Republic of Kiribati, Conservation International and New England Aquarium developed the management plan for PIPA over several years of joint scientific research and discussions and all three remain committed to supporting this partnership.
 
Details of the PIPA’s management plan have been publicly available since 2010, when the PIPA was inscribed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site - the largest and deepest such natural site in the world. Recent press reports however, have questioned CI’s communications about the marine protected area and associated trust fund, and even alleged intent to communicate misleading information about the levels of protection in the PIPA. These claims are simply untrue and Conservation International strongly disputes them. 
 
Recent inquiries from a journalist did help CI to discover a single misstatement on the organization’s website about PIPA, which gave the unintended impression that the marine protected area has been fully closed to fishing, which is not the case. When this error was brought to CI’s attention, it was immediately reviewed and corrected and a correction was added as a footnote to the story, which remains on the site today.  Save for that error, all official and codified documents, correspondence and multiple proposals by CI have described PIPA accurately. 
 
When it was announced in 2006 and formally established in 2008, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area was in the vanguard of marine conservation; there was much excitement at the time of declaration and some press reports overstated the levels of no-take. It is still in this vanguard today. 
 
More explicit communications about the protected status of the area could have been possible and may have been helpful to fully inform public understanding of the PIPA, particularly with the aspirational language used to describe the work being done there. CI has referred to PIPA as the world's largest marine protected area, which was true at the time it was declared, but did not further clarify that this did not mean that PIPA was a full ‘no-take zone’ to commercial fishing yet.  
 
To be clear:  PIPA is not a ‘no-take zone’ and not a ‘reserve’, nor need it be, it is a large multiple-use protected area. Currently, 3% of the MPA is designated as a ‘no-take zone’ and the only commercial activities allowed in the area are fishing and tourism and subsistence resource use on Kanton Island.  
 
If there have been any other unintended miscommunications or misunderstandings about the status of PIPA at present or in the past, Conservation International regrets the confusion and commits to carefully explaining future developments while advancing public understanding of the process of creating, communicating, designing, and implementing large-scale marine protected areas for human well being.
 
Transformative conservation, such as the type in PIPA, takes time and careful planning - especially in developing nations as geographically remote and economically challenged as Kiribati, however protection in its marine protected area will continue to progress. There have already been great advances made in the area’s first phase of its management plan, including research expeditions to the islands to monitor and study the coral reefs of the eight atolls with numerous partners. Rats and rabbits, both introduced and invasive species, have been successfully eradicated from three globally important bird nesting islands. An assessment has been done to build capacity on Kanton Island, the only island within the MPA that shelters a human population. CI is proud of these efforts and achievements and determined that they will continue.
 
Additionally, Conservation International remains as confident today in the promise of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area and the PIPA Trust Leadership as it was when President Tong announced its establishment.  CI’s co-founder, Chairman and CEO, Peter Seligmann underscored his confidence in Kiribati’s leadership, explaining that designing and managing a large-scale marine protected area, particularly in the heart of the world’s richest tuna fishing ground, is as challenging as it is ambitious. 
 
“A valued member of CI’s Board of Directors, His Excellency Anote Tong, the President of Kiribati, is an honorable leader who has shown great vision and care in guiding his nation to pioneer large-scale, precedent-setting conservation solutions that will support the country’s economic security, cultural heritage, and globally important fisheries and seas", said Seligmann. 
 
Further clarifying the importance of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area to CI’s mission, its Chief Scientist for Oceans and Executive Vice President Dr. Gregory Stone, said: “PIPA was designed and is managed to implement long term solutions that will support what is the most important tuna fishery left on Earth. It has the potential to become a key fish regeneration zone. I strongly believe that Kiribati's investment in preserving its natural capital and heritage, via its commitments to the PIPA Trust, is globally significant and worthy of our support, replication, and investment.”
 
Sue Miller-Taei, Director of CI’s Pacific Islands Program and long time adviser for the PIPA emphasizes: “PIPA serves as a model for other Pacific states and shows the world that Small Island Developing States should be seen as Large Ocean Developing States. Kiribati and its Pacific island neighbors need our support to realize their stewardship of the largest ocean on Earth.”
 
Conservation International remai​ns steadfast in its commitment to support the people of Kiribati in growing this endowment, which will finance the long term management of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. With careful, scientific, management and methodical increase in protections, PIPA promises to strengthen food, climate and economic security for generations to come, and support Kiribati’s citizens, our planet and people everywhere.

 
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About Conservation International (CI) – Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity, for the well-being of people. Founded in 1987, CI is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area and employs more than 800 staff in nearly 29 countries on six continents, working with more than 1,000 partners around the world. For more information, please see www.conservation.org or visit us on Facebook and Twitter.