By Tukabu Teroroko, Director, Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA)
The Phoenix Islands - roughly halfway between Australia and Hawaii in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean – form one of the world's last intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems. Its reefs have remained unspoiled and its 25 square kilometers of land, scattered through 408,000 square kilometers of sea averaging 4km in depth, are home to rare birds and plants. Five of its eight islands are officially designated as Important Bird Areas and - since only one island is inhabited, and by less than 50 people - this is truly a natural laboratory in the wild.
In 2006 Kiribati declared the establishment of the Phoenix Island Protected Area (PIPA), which in 2010 became a World Heritage Site, the largest and deepest on Earth. It is the biggest marine conservation effort of its kind by a Least Developed Country.
PIPA has benefited from GEF funding, which supported the implementation of the are'as first Management Plan, the establishment of its two Implementation Offices and the recruitment of six core staff. The plan focuses on (i) Core Operational (capacity, infrastructure, zonation, surveillance and enforcement, monitoring, evaluation) and Strategic Outcomes (atoll restoration, reverse fishing license, world heritage site management, tourism, climate change adaptation) and (ii) the design and operation of PIPA’s Sustainable Financing System.
The islands' wildlife was damaged by mammalian pests, especially rats, and the project enabled it to be restored. Birds and vegetation (which shelters birds and chicks) recovered quickly when rat eradication programmes were implemented on McKean and Birnie islands, and after all the rabbits were shot and killed on Rawaki Island.
Sharing information on PIPA’s values and undisturbed natural beauties through outreach programmes has greatly inspired the school children, youth and the public at large in Kiribati to take care for the environment and surroundings. Eco-tourism in the protected area - focusing on snorkeling and diving, catch and game fishing, bird watching, amateur radioing, and simply relaxing enjoying the beautiful environment –brings in income to Kiribati. In January 2015, the PIPA was fully closed to commercial fishing, There have been quite a number of scientific reports on studies there, while research into tuna larvae continues.
The project adopted a multi-ministerial approach which has proven very effective. The Kiribati Police Service Maritime Unit under the Office of the President , for example, is responsible for the PIPA’s surveillance and enforcement tasks; The Fisheries Department for research and monitoring in the PIP andthe Attorney General Office for dealing with legal matters. Kiribati is also an active member of regional organisations and benefits from the support of the Forum Fisheries Agency on surveillance and security and the Secretariart of the Pacific Commission, among others, for quarantine and biosecurity assistance. Bodies like Skytruth, Google Watch and Oceans are very helpful in detecting vessel movements in PIPA.
The PIPA Conservation Trust provides a steady flow of financial support needed to manage the Trust and to sustain the protected area's operations. A total of US$5 million has been invested with contributions from the Kiribati Government, New England Aquarium and Conservation International. Implementing the PIPA Fundraising Framework Strategy will provide additional capital to the Trust, while the Waitt Foundation and Ocean 5 are providing US$1 million annually for the next 4 years for the protected area's operations and management
Future expectations for the GEF
Additional financial support is needed for PIPA’s programme as below:
- PIPA Atolls and Reef Islands Restoration & Biosecurity: Rat eradication was carried out only on 4 PIPA islands, namely, McKean, Birnie , Ederbury, and Rawaki (rabbits on this island only). Additional financial support to eradicate the rats on the rest of the untreated islands including Enderbury will ensure that their pristine natural environment and beauty is maintained.
- Surveillance and Enforcement: Financial support is required to further improve existing infrastructures and equipment for surveillance and enforcement in the PIPA.
- Science and Research: PIPA is an important tuna spawning ground. Investing in research on these valuable economic species inside the large marine protected area is vital. A better understanding of the tuna life cycle would contribute to managing stocks and address global concerns on overfishing and food security. And providing support in establishing PIPA as a natural marine laboratory for studying climate change could contribute to better understanding of the impacts of rising temperatures on corals and the marine life.
- PIPA Eco-tourism development: Support for sound ecological low-volume high-end tourism development is vital. People will enjoy the pristine natural environment and beauties, while it it will provide employment opportunities and government revenuent.
- Marine Protected Areas Networking: Support to the Big Oceans initiatives, to which Kiribati belongs, will ensure a collective approach in working towards saving the oceans from overfishing, pollution, and the impacts of climate change.
Find out more on the PIPA Website: http://phoenixislands.org