I’ve got some very good news to share. Thanks to many years of work by CI, Kiribati and partners, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) was just inscribed as a World Heritage Site at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) meeting in Brazil. PIPA is now the world’s largest World Heritage Site.
UNESCO, which works to “preserve humanity’s irreplaceable riches: its diversity and shared heritage,” inscribed 21 new natural and cultural sites this week, including PIPA and its sister site, Hawaii’s Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Together, the two sites make up about 25 percent of the world’s total marine protected area (MPA) territory.
Located between Fiji and Hawaii in the central Pacific (see map), the Phoenix Islands are part of Kiribati, the largest atoll nation in the world. Kiribati’s three island chains cover a land area of only 811 square kilometers (313 square miles), but its ocean territory contains over 3.5 million square kilometers (more than 1.3 million square miles). Designated in 2006, PIPA is the largest MPA in the Pacific; in 2008, it was extended to over 400,000 square kilometers (155,000 square miles – about the size of California) of marine and terrestrial habitats.
PIPA is characterized by a large number of seamounts – submerged mountains that are thought to be extinct volcanoes. The MPA also helps to conserve one of the world’s last remaining intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems, which shelters more than 800 marine and bird species.
CI works closely with the Phoenix Islands, providing funding and technical assistance through our Global Conservation Fund and Pacific Islands Program; together with partners, including the New England Aquarium, our work helped lead to the establishment of the MPA. CI President Dr. Russ Mittermeier and CI-Samoa Marine Program Director Sue Taei served on the Kiribati delegation during this UNESCO meeting, helping bring to fruition the work and investments of many individuals, organizations and nations over the past decade.
This new development for PIPA is a major step in conserving this remote area, and presents a unique opportunity to protect species and ecosystems of global importance from shallow to deep water.
Dr. Greg Stone is CI’s senior vice president and chief scientist for oceans. In 2009, he led a science expedition to PIPA to help support the designation of the MPA as a World Heritage Site; read his dispatches from the field.