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UNESCO expresses concern over the lifting of fishing no-take zones in Kiribati’s Phoenix Islands Protected Area

Thursday, 2 December 2021
access_time 1 min read
Fishing effort, as calculated by Global Fishing Watch, in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area World Heritage site (Kiribati) in the six months after the park was closed to fishing in 2014. | Image Source: Global Fishing Watch

UNESCO has been informed of a press release issued by the Office of the President of Kiribati on 15 November last, concerning the Government of Kiribati’s decision to lift the closure of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area as a no-take zone and to introduce a Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) for the sustainable use of marine resources within the World Heritage property. A no-take zone is a marine protected area set aside by the government where fishing, mining, or other extractive activities are banned.

In 2015, the World Heritage Committee commended Kiribati for its landmark decision of 2014 to fully close the entire area of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area to commercial fishing.

Therefore, UNESCO is deeply concerned by the announcement that the 2014 decision would be reversed, which may impact the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the World Heritage property. The World Heritage Centre and the Advisory Bodies to the World Heritage Committee will bring this matter to the attention of the 45th session of the World Heritage Committee (Kazan, Russian Federation, 19-30 June 2022).

In the meantime, UNESCO is engaging in dialogue with the authorities of Kiribati and the International Union for Conservation of Nature about the possible impacts of this decision on the OUV of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. The Organization stands ready to provide advice in order to ensure the best possible preservation of the World Heritage property.

Thursday, 2 December 2021
access_time 1 min read
States Parties (1)
Regions (1)
Asia and the Pacific
Statutory Meetings (1)
See Also (1)
World Heritage Properties (1)
Decisions (2)
Code: 39COM 7B.14

The World Heritage Committee,

  1. Having examined Document WHC-15/39.COM/7B,
  2. Recalling Decision 36 COM 7B.13, adopted at its 36th session (Saint-Petersburg, 2012),
  3. Highly commends the State Party for its decision to fully close the entire area of Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) from commercial fishing;
  4. Notes the information provided by the State Party on the currently available funds in the Trust Fund, and urges the State Party to continue its efforts to fully capitalize the Fund as a matter of priority;
  5. Welcomes the involvement of international partners into securing additional funding to cover management activities under the new Management Plan for the period 2015-2020;
  6. Also commends the efforts undertaken by the State Party and its partners in the region to minimize illegal activities; however, noting the concern expressed by the State Party that surveillance and enforcement of the Kiribati Cabinet decision remain a challenge due to the size and remoteness of the property, strongly encourages the State Party to strengthen its collaboration with other countries and organizations, including exploring other potentially applicable technological options;
  7. Also notes the State Party’s request for assistance with the removal of shipwrecks, and requests the State Party to provide further information on the impacts on the Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) of the property from the presence of these shipwrecks and the potential impacts associated with the various available techniques for their removal;
  8. Further notes the information provided by the State Party on the recent boundary changes to PIPA following the boundary delimitation negotiations between the Government of Kiribati, the United States of America and Tokelau, and also requests the State Party to submit an official boundary modification for the property by 1 February 2016;
  9. Further requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre, by 1 December 2016, an updated report, including a 1-page executive summary, on the state of conservation of the property and the implementation of the above, in particular on the progress achieved towards full capitalization of the Fund.

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Code: 34COM 8B.2

The World Heritage Committee,

1. Having examined Documents WHC-10/34.COM/8B and WHC-10/34.COM/INF.8B2,

2. Highly commends the State Party on the efforts that have been made towards the establishment and protection of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Kiribati which comprises one of the world's largest marine protected areas and commends the State Party for its exemplary multi-agency approach, its comprehensive and strategic management plan, its successes with island restoration projects, and the proposal to progressively expand the no-take zones over time;

3. Inscribes the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Kiribati, on the World Heritage List on the basis of criteria (vii) and (ix);

4. Adopts the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value:

Brief Synthesis

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 (PIPA) (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.

PIPA 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 the mid oceanic biota.

Due to its great isolation, PIPA 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. PIPA 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 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); PIPA, 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. PIPA is a very large protected area, a vast wilderness domain where nature prevails and man is but an occasional visitor. PIPA 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 PIPA 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, PIPA 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.

PIPA 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. PIPA 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.

Integrity

PIPA'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 PIPA as described in the Management Plan. PIPA'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. Despite some human impacts (fishing, invasive species) the integrity of the property and oceanic ecosystems processes at scale are globally outstanding for island archipelagos and most other tropical marine environments found worldwide.

Protection and Management requirements

PIPA is a highly protected area fully legally established under the PIPA Regulations 2008. These regulations include provision of a management plan and clear permitting processes and rules for activities allowable within the site. The 2010-2014 PIPA Management Plan, endorsed by Kiribati's cabinet in 2009 is under implementation. Management capacity and success is steadily building and Kiribati is using 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 success in capture and fining of illegal fishing vessels and in the removal of invasive species from globally important islands for seabird conservation.

For long term sustainability Kiribati and its partners are committed to a PIPA Trust Fund. The Fund's legislation, the Board and by-laws are all now in place and 2.5 million USD secured for the endowment with fundraising now a primary focus. Kiribati has recognized the need to further build management capacity, particularly for surveillance and enforcement, and continues to do so through site, national, regional and bilateral partnerships. The link to the Nauru Agreement (8 Pacific Island States) to manage tuna fishing in the region are important and provide, through license provisions, the first active linkage to management of the neighbouring high seas for a World Heritage site. Kiribati licenses for fishing in the Kiribati EEZ, including PIPA, is only allowable if the licensee agrees not to fish in the adjacent high seas. This is enforceable through the mandatory 100% observer coverage.

 5. Recommends the State Party to:

a) 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;

b) Ensure an appropriate and sustainable budget towards the management of Phoenix Islands Protected Area through a funded and functional trust fund or through other appropriate mechanisms;

c) Ensure capacities and resources for refined and systematic monitoring, surveillance and law enforcement;

6. Welcomes the sister site agreement between the Governments of Kiribati and the United States of America on the management of Phoenix Islands Protected Area and Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument respectively, and encourages State Parties to continue and, as possible, expand on this collaboration;

7. Also welcomes the strong support from the States Parties Australia, France, New Zealand and the United States of America, as well as from international institutions and non-governmental organizations and encourages these partners to further support the management, surveillance and funding of Phoenix Islands Protected Area, including the nomination of the area for inscription on the World Heritage list.

8. Requests the State Party to submit to the World Heritage Centre by 1 February 2012 a report on the recommendations above for examination at its 36th session in 2012.

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