The Phoenix Island Protected Area (PIPA) is a 408,250 sq.km expanse of marine and terrestrial habitats in the Southern Pacific Ocean. The property encompasses the Phoenix Island Group, one of three island groups in Kiribati, and is the largest designated Marine Protected Area in the world. PIPA conserves one of the world's largest intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems, together with 14 known underwater sea mounts (presumed to be extinct volcanoes) and other deep-sea habitats. The area contains approximately 800 known species of fauna, including about 200 coral species, 500 fish species, 18 marine mammals and 44 bird species. The structure and functioning of PIPA's ecosystems illustrates its pristine nature and importance as a migration route and reservoir. This is the first site in Kiribati to be inscribed on the World Heritage List.
© New England Aquarium
Outstanding Universal Value
As a vast expanse of largely pristine mid-ocean environment, replete with a suite of largely intact uninhabited atolls, truly an oceanic wilderness, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (408,250 sq km), the largest marine protected area in the Pacific, is globally exceptional and as such is a superlative natural phenomenon of global importance.
Phoenix Islands Protected Area contains an outstanding collection of large submerged volcanoes, presumed extinct, rising direct from the extensive deep sea floor with an average depth of more than 4,500 metres and a maximum depth of over 6,000 metres. Included are no less than 14 recognised seamounts, submerged mountains that don't penetrate to the surface. The collection of atolls and reef islands represent coral reef capping on 8 other volcanic mountains that approach the surface. The large bathymetric range of the submerged seamount landscape provides depth defined habitat types fully representative of Pacific mid oceanic biota.
Due to its great isolation, Phoenix Islands Protected Area occupies a unique position in the biogeography of the Pacific as a critical stepping stone habitat for migratory and pelagic/planktonic species and for ocean currents in the region. Phoenix Islands Protected Area embraces the full range of marine environments in this area and displays high levels of marine abundance as well as the full spectrum of age and size cohorts, increasingly rare in the tropics, and especially in the case of apex predator sharks fish, sea turtles, sea birds, corals, giant clams, and coconut crabs, many of which have been depleted elsewhere. The overall marine tropic dynamics for these island communities across this archipelago are better functioning (relatively intact) compared with other island systems where human habitation and exploitation has significantly altered the environment. The complete representation of ocean and island environments and their connectivity, the remoteness and naturalness are important attributes which contribute to the outstanding universal value.
Criterion (vii): Phoenix Islands Protected Area, an oceanic wilderness, is sufficiently remote and inhospitable to human colonisation as to be exceptional in terms of the minimal evidence of the impacts of human activities both on the atolls and in the adjacent seas. The Phoenix Islands Protected Area is a very large protected area, a vast wilderness domain where nature prevails and man is but an occasional visitor. The property is distinguished by containing a large suite of seamounts complete with a broad expanse of contextual abyssal plain with a natural phenomenon of global significance. The essentially pristine environment, outstanding underwater clarity, the spectacle of large groups of charismatic aquatic animals (e.g. bumphead parrotfish, Napolean wrasse, surgeonfishes, parrotfishes, groupers, maori wrasse, sharks, turtles, dolphins, manta rays, giant clams) in quantities rarely found elsewhere in the world, aesthetically outstanding coral reef features (e.g. giant clams, large coral heads) together with the spectacle of huge concentrations of seabirds on remote atolls, makes of this property a truly kaleidoscopic natural "oceanscape" exhibiting exceptional natural beauty of global significance.
Criterion (ix): With its rich biota, as a known breeding site for numerous nomadic, migratory and pelagic marine and terrestrial species, and the known and predicted high level of biodiversity and endemicity associated with these isolated mid-ocean atolls, submerged reefs and seamounts, Phoenix Islands Protected Area makes an outstanding contribution to ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of global marine ecosystems and communities of plants and animals. Phoenix Islands Protected Area has exceptional value as a natural laboratory for the study and understanding of the significant ongoing ecological and biological processes in the evolution and development of marine ecosystems of the Pacific, the world's largest ocean, indeed all oceans. This property is of crucial scientific importance in identifying and monitoring the processes of sea level change, growth rates and age of reefs and reef builders, (both geologically and historically) and in evaluating effects from climate change.
Phoenix Islands Protected Area's boundaries are clearly defined. The boundaries are mostly straight lines with some adjustments to the boundaries to align with the Exclusive Economic Zone (200NM) of Kiribati. There are various clearly delimited zones within Phoenix Islands Protected Area as described in the Management Plan. Phoenix Islands Protected Area's large size and full inclusion of oceanic and island habitats in this area and coverage of numerous examples of key habitats (coral reefs, islands, seamounts) together with its predominantly natural state give exceptional conservation importance. The integrity of the property and oceanic ecosystems processes at scale are globally significant for island archipelagos and most other tropical marine environments found worldwide. However, human impacts such as fishing, deep sea mining and invasive species should be closely monitored for the maintenance of the integrity of the property.
Protection and Management requirements
Phoenix Islands Protected Area is a protected area legally established under the Phoenix Islands Protected Area Regulations 2008.These regulations clearly delineate the boundaries of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, establish the Phoenix Islands Protected Area Management Committee and seek to ensure that a Management Plan is in place for the property. The full establishment of management capacity is an essential requirement, and Kiribati is committed to a "whole of government approach with partners" to ensure a management system that is sustainable and suitable to the circumstances of a small developing state. Of particular note is the importance of sustained success in capture and fining of illegal fishing vessels and in the removal of invasive species from globally important islands for seabird conservation. It is essential to strengthen the management framework for fisheries, including the extension of no-take areas, measures to prevent degradation of seamounts and concrete timelines for the phasing out of tuna fishing.
For long term sustainability Kiribati and its partners are committed to a Phoenix Islands Protected Area Trust Fund. The Fund's legislation, the Board and by-laws are essential foundations for the property and partners, including Conservation International and the New England Aquarium are committed to ensure the establishment, full funding and operation of the endowment fund to support the property. Kiribati is committed to further build management capacity, particularly for surveillance and enforcement, including through site, national, regional and bilateral partnerships. The link to the Nauru Agreement (8 Pacific Island States) to manage tuna fishing in the region is important and provides, through license provisions, a long-term active linkage to management of the neighbouring high seas for the Phoenix Islands Protected Area World Heritage site. Kiribati licenses for fishing in the Kiribati Exclusive Economic Zone, including Phoenix Islands Protected Area, are only allowable if the licensee agrees not to fish in the adjacent high seas. This is enforceable through the mandatory 100% observer coverage.