Phoenix Islands Protected Area World Heritage Site
Aire protégée des îles Phoenix, Kiribati
MARINE PROTECTED AREA
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The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) is located in the Republic of Kiribati, an ocean nation in the central Pacific approximately midway between Australia and Hawaii. PIPA constitutes 11.34% of Kiribati’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and with a size of 408,250 km2 (157,626 square miles) it is the largest marine protected area (MPA) in the Pacific Ocean. PIPA was the world’s first large, truly deep water, mid-ocean MPA.
The greater part of PIPA by area is ocean floor with a water column averaging more than 4,000 meters (2.5 miles) deep. An important feature of PIPA is the abundance of large, extinct, underwater volcanoes. These underwater mountains contribute a huge diversity of marine habitat types - atoll, low reef island, submerged reef, seamount, and deep seabed as well as open ocean habitats.
PIPA includes all eight atoll and low reef islands of the Kiribati section of the Phoenix Islands: Rawaki, Enderbury, Nikumaroro, McKean, Manra, Birnie, Kanton and Orona. The only island that is currently inhabited is Kanton with a non-permanent population of less than 40 people made up of government employees and their families engaged in the protection and management of Kiribati interests in the region. PIPA also includes two submerged reefs, Carondelet Reef and Winslow Reef, with Carondelet Reef being as little as 3 to 4 meters (approximately 10 to 13 feet) underwater at low tide.
Kiribati first declared the creation of PIPA at the 2006 Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in Brazil. On January 30, 2008, Kiribati adopted formal regulations for PIPA that more than doubled the original size making it, at that time, the largest marine protected area on Earth. In total it is equivalent to the size of the state of California in the USA, though the total land area is only 25 km2 (9.7 sq mi).
The Republic of Kiribati, in partnership with the non-governmental conservation organizations Conservation International and the New England Aquarium, has formed the Phoenix Island Protected Area Conservation Trust (PIPA Trust). The management and enforcement of PIPA will be financed through the PIPA Trust through an endowment that will compensate Kiribati for lost revenues and management costs. Protecting the Phoenix Islands means restricting commercial fishing in the area, resulting in a loss of revenue that the Kiribati government would normally receive from issuing foreign commercial fishing licenses. In the face of multiple threats to marine biodiversity, this represents one of the few market-based, sustainable ways to finance such a protection plan.
Management and protection requirements necessary to maintain the values of this MPA are reflected both in the current interim management measures and the recently approved management plan. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
PIPA provides important natural habitats for in-situ conservation of globally important biological diversity, both marine and terrestrial. The Phoenix Islands are identified as a Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) by Conservation International and the coral reefs of PIPA are among the least disturbed coral reefs in the world. Currently more than 200 coral species are known but undoubtedly many more deep-water coral species associated with seamounts remain unidentified within PIPA. There are 514 species of reef fish, including several new species. The reef system is so remote and untouched by human activities that it can serve as a benchmark for understanding and potentially providing guidance for restoring other degraded hard coral ecosystems.
Five of the eight islands in PIPA are currently on target to be designated as Important Bird Areas by Birdlife International as the Phoenix Islands are internationally recognized as a seabird haven.Petrels, tropicbirds, boobies, frigatebirds and terns collectively are estimated to have numbered in the millions during the last comprehensive surveys which were undertaken in the 1960s. Some of these colonies represented what may have been the largest concentrations of their species in the world, including for Audubon's shearwater, the vulnerable white-throated (Polynesian) storm-petrel, lesser frigatebird and blue noddy. Today there are 19 species of seabirds living on the islands. Many other seabirds migrate through PIPA, including shearwaters and mottled petrels from Australia and New Zealand. Prominent species include the endemic, endangered Phoenix petrel.
PIPA islands such as Kanton, Rawaki and Enderbury have important nesting beaches for threatened green turtles and possibly also for hawksbill turtles as well as safe breeding and feeding sites for both species . Enderbury is among one of the most important green turtle nesting sites in the Central Pacific. Kanton and Orona lagoons host spectacular giant clam communities in sizes rarely seen elsewhere in the world.
Many non-native, invasive plants and animals have been introduced to the Phoenix Islands with varied and often catastrophic results. Some of the negative impacts these invasives bring include the elimination of native seabirds and plants, particularly through the destruction of the eggs and young, and introduced plants taking over other plant life, modifying the natural island ecosystem. Plants and animals that have been introduced over time include Pacific and Asian rats, rabbits, cats, ants, pigs, dogs and lantana.
Until PIPA was declared, the last comprehensive fauna surveys of the Phoenix Islands occurred in the 1960s. In 2006 a new survey was conducted to determine the extent of non-native pest species invasions on each island and the feasibility of a restoration program. From this work it was determined that pests should be removed from all eight of the Phoenix Islands, but the most urgent management actions required for the islands are to remove feral rabbits from Rawaki and Asian rats on McKean.
During the 1960s McKean was one of the flagship islands of the Phoenix group, supporting diverse and important populations of seabirds – there were thousands of blue noddies and white-throated storm-petrels, and several other species of tern and shearwater. Sometime around the year 2002 however, Asian rats colonized McKean, apparently when a fishing trawler was wrecked on the island. The 2006 survey found that storm-petrels, blue noddies and other petrels and shearwaters had virtually disappeared from the island as a result of intensive predation of adult birds, their eggs and chicks by the rats. Most of the seabird species that were still persisting on McKean in 2006 were present in greatly reduced numbers and were generally breeding unsuccessfully.
The very high density of rabbits was impacting the many seabirds on Rawaki through competition for burrows and shaded shelters with associated trampling of eggs and nestlings. Rabbits were also impacting the vegetation which in turn reduced nest site availability and burrow stability for burrowing seabirds and impacts on the ecosystem as a whole.
As a first step towards biodiversity recovery on the islands of the PIPA, in mid 2008 rats and rabbits were targeted on McKean and Rawaki. In November-December 2009 a check of these islands by a science team indicated that the eradication programs were successful. The responses from the plant life and bird life were spectacular with the team finding that seabirds were nesting successfully on McKean for the first time in nearly 10 years. Meanwhile on Rawaki the vegetation recovery has enabled birds like blue noddies to find suitable nest sites throughout the island. Even frigatebirds were nesting on the now recovering plants. These restoration efforts will enable populations of Phoenix petrel, white-throated storm petrel, and other important seabird populations to recover in the PIPA. Planning is currently underway to restore additional islands of the PIPA and keep these precious islands secure from invasive species.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Convention aims to promote cooperation among nations to protect heritage around the world that is of such outstanding universal value that its conservation is important for current and future generations. It is intended that, unlike the seven wonders of the ancient world, properties on the World Heritage List will be conserved for all time.
On January 30, 2009, the Republic of Kiribati submitted an application for the Phoenix Islands Protected Area for consideration on World Heritage List. This was the first nomination submitted by Kiribati since they ratified the Convention in 2000. On August 1, 2010 at the 34th session of the World Heritage Committee in Brasilia, Brazil, the decision was made to inscribe PIPA onto the World Heritage List. It became the largest and deepest World Heritage site in the world.
Since 1988, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery (TIGHAR) has been testing the hypothesis that the missing 1937 flight of Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan landed at Nikumaroro. Evidence amassed from archival research and numerous expeditions to the island suggests that the plane was landed safely on the atoll's fringing reef but was washed over the edge by rising tide and surf after several days leaving Earhart and Noonan as castaways on the uninhabited, waterless atoll. In 1940 a British Colonial Service officer discovered a partial skeleton and several artifacts at a makeshift campsite on the island's remote southeast end. The bones and artifacts were sent to British headquarters in Fiji and subsequently lost. Modern assessment of measurements taken by a British doctor in 1941 suggest that the skeleton was that of a female of northern European descent who stood roughly Earhart's height. Artifacts recovered from a site believed to be where the skeleton was found speak of an American woman of the 1930s who had items with her consistent with items known to have been typically carried by Earhart. Serial numbers reported to have been on a sextant box found with the bones suggest that the sextant was the same type known to have been carried by Noonan.
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