SINGAPORE The Pacific island nation of Kiribati
has created the world's largest protected marine reserve, a
California-sized wilderness brimming with reefs, fish and
birds, conservation groups said on Thursday.
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area, covering 410,500 square
kilometers, is one of the planet's last intact coral
archipelagos and is threatened by over-fishing and climate
change, the groups say.
It lies near the equator about half way between Fiji and
"The creation of this amazing marine protected area by a
small island nation represents a commitment of historic
proportions," said Russell Mittermeier, president of
The U.S.-based group, along with the New England Aquarium,
is helping the Kiribati government develop a management and
funding plan for the largely uninhabited area.
Studies led by the U.S. aquarium have found more than 120
species of coral and 520 species of fish, some new to science.
The area also has some of the most important sea bird
nesting sites in the Pacific, large fish populations and sea
turtles, the aquarium and Conservation International say.
The protected zone is more than double the area Kiribati
originally pledged to protect at a U.N. biodiversity conference
in Brazil in 2006.
"The new boundary includes extensive seamount and deep-sea
habitat, tuna spawning grounds and as yet unsurveyed submerged
reef systems," said Greg Stone, the aquarium's vice-president
of global marine programs.
Kiribati says it needs more money to pay for surveillance
against illegal fishing as well as develop a trust fund,
possibly as large as $100 million, to pay for running costs and
compensate the government for lost income from commercial
"A major part of the operational cost is the surveillance
and we have a patrol boat donated by Australia," Tebwe Ietaake,
secretary of Kiribati's environment ministry, told Reuters.
"We are also looking at the cooperation of Australia and
New Zealand in aerial surveillance flights over the region," he
He said the government would still allow subsistence
fishing by local fishing communities.
Conservation International said it was crucial to protect
the area from over fishing because healthy reefs and fishing
grounds helped the area better withstand the impacts of climate
The reefs were already facing the threat of warming seas,
which has caused repeated coral bleaching around Kiribati and
elsewhere in the Pacific, such as the Great Barrier Reef.
Parts of Kiribati, too, are already suffering from the
effects of rising seas, including coastal erosion in the vast
archipelago and salt water intrusion into fresh water supplies.
The expanded Phoenix islands reserve is closely matched in
size to the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in
Hawaii, the single largest conservation area under the U.S.
flag, covering 137,797 square miles of the Pacific Ocean.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park covers about
345,000 sq km, and extends more than 2,300 km along the
(Editing by Alex Richardson)