Kiribati Takes Unprecedented Action to Protect Remaining Tuna Stocks

Share Article

President Anote Tong of Kiribati announces the closure of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage site, to commercial fishing at the U.S. State Department ‘Our Ocean’ Conference.

In his opening remarks today at the U.S. State Department led-Our Ocean Conference hosted by U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry in Washington, D.C., President Anote Tong of the Republic of Kiribati formally announced that the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) will close to all commercial fishing by the end of 2014, with a small exemption for subsistence fishing around Kanton Island.

Established in 2008 by the Kiribati government in partnership with Conservation International (CI) and the New England Aquarium, the PIPA’s closure will take effect ahead of the marine protected area’s (MPA) original plan, which called for a 28% closure to commercial fishing by years-end 2014. This bold move is aimed at safeguarding some of the world’s most important island and ocean areas and is considered a test case for large-scale conservation of tuna stocks.

“My people have been custodians of our oceans for centuries,” President Tong, who is also a member of CI’s board, said addressing world ocean leaders from 80 countries. He added that solutions must focus on a united, connected and sustained approach. “Action is our obligation for our children and our children's children. The closure of the Phoenix Island Protected Area will have a major contribution for regeneration of tuna stocks, not only for us but for our global community, and for generations to come.”

“Tuna is an economic mainstay of my country and indeed many Pacific Island states. It took nearly two decades for MPAs to be recognized as a valuable approach for coastal fisheries, and the time is now to include MPAs as a vital part of our sustainable tuna strategy,” President Tong said. “We are committed to testing this in the heart of the world’s largest tuna fishery.”

The PIPA is among one of the most economically important waters left on the planet, located within the region that is home to the largest remaining stocks of tuna where 60% of the world’s tuna catch, dominated by foreign fleets from China, Europe, Japan and the U.S., occurs.

“This is the boldest action taken by a government I have seen in my career in terms of protecting natural capital and creating critically-needed protected areas,” said Dr. Greg Stone, CI’s chief scientist and chairman of the PIPA Trust Board of Trustees. “To put it in perspective, the PIPA is 11 percent of this small island nation’s Exclusive Economic Zone; 11 percent of the U.S.’ Exclusive Economic Zone equates to nearly twice the size of Texas. That is a significant area to set aside for conservation, food security and sustainable development.”

President Tong and the Kiribati government’s action to close the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage site to commercial fishing is a historic and groundbreaking move by a developing country with a GDP ranked 191 out of 193 by the United Nations, aimed at safeguarding global food security well into the next century. The government of Kiribati is taking this action, investing in its natural resources through conservation, while faced with fiscal and political constraints of a developing nation that depends on fisheries for more than 40% of its national budget and with a future in question because of rising sea levels due to climate change.

The PIPA was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2010, in recognition of its universally significant ocean wilderness and contribution to ecological and biological processes in the evolution of global marine ecosystems. Since its inscription, the World Heritage Committee considered the increase of fishing protection critical to ensure successful, long-term conservation of the PIPA’s natural value.

“The full closure of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, which includes an important exemption for subsistence fishing in a populated area, goes well beyond the nation’s original commitment,” said Dr. Fanny Douvere, coordinator of the World Heritage Centre’s Marine Programme. “It establishes an important precedent for stewardship of World Heritage marine sites, many of which still struggle with unsustainable fishing practices.”

With fish stocks rapidly diminishing worldwide, the PIPA’s closure, which represents approximately 11% of Kiribati’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and is the size of California, aims to strengthen tuna stocks that will ultimately be available to commercial fishing outside the protected area for generations to come. Distant water fishing nations pay for the right to fish within Kiribati’s waters, providing revenue that contributes to the country’s infrastructure, schools and healthcare for its citizens.

“Kiribati's bold strategy in closing the Phoenix Islands Protected Area to commercial fishing is a wise investment but also a great scientific opportunity to assess the impact of large marine protected areas in aiding the conservation of highly migratory fish like tuna,” said Dr. Nigella Hillgarth, President and Chief Executive Officer at the New England Aquarium and Trustee of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area Conservation Trust.

The Phoenix Islands also sit in ecologically unique and sensitive waters. Expeditions have identified more than 200 species of coral and 550 species of reef fish; healthy populations of sea turtles, dolphins and whales; and large predators such as humphead wrasse, grouper, snapper, tuna, sharks and oceanic mackerel.Two of the most pristine reefs, Carondelet Reef and Winslow Reef, also are located within the PIPA. It is estimated that there could be more than 30 seamounts within this protected area as well, though to date only nine have been named.

Kiribati, supported by Conservation International and the New England Aquarium, will now be creating a plan to guide the successful monitoring and management of the closure. The PIPA Conservation Trust was initially capitalized with a US$5 million investment – via US$2.5 million from Conservation International’s Global Conservation Fund, and US$2.5 million from the government of Kiribati – and will focus on attracting more investments in order to support the enforcement and provide other economic revenue streams for the people of Kiribati. In addition, a PIPA Tuna Working Group is under design to effectively monitor and document the effects of the closure in what is seen to be a globally important test case for the regeneration management of tuna and other oceanic resources.

Available content for media (***Please Provide Image Credits***)

Photographs and embeddable video for download:

To learn more, go here:
Conservation International:
New England Aquarium:
Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Kiribati:

Inscription Criteria:
State Party reports and Committee Decisions:
State of Conservation Report:

For more information, contact:
Kevin Connor, Media Manager, Conservation International
Office +1 703 341 2405/ mobile +1 410 868 1369
email kconnor(at)conservation(dot)org

Tony LaCasse, Media Relations Director, New England Aquarium
Office +1 617 973 5213 / mobile +1 617 877 6871
email tlacasse(at)neaq(dot)org

About Conservation International (CI)
Building upon a strong foundation of science, partnership and field demonstration, CI empowers societies to responsibly and sustainably care for nature, our global biodiversity for the well-being of people. Founded in 1987, CI is headquartered in the Washington, D.C. area and employs more than 800 staff in 30 countries on six continents, and has nearly 1,000 partners around the world. For more information, please visit our website at:

About the Global Conservation Fund (GCF)
Established in 2001, Conservation International's GCF finances the creation, expansion and sustainable financing of protected areas for the long term benefit of people and biodiversity. In the Fund’s 12 years, it has invested $65 million in 76 priority locations in 26 countries around the world that provide critical natural capital, or ecosystem goods and services, vital for human survival. Its portfolio of trust funds supports the sustainable development of an area that is cumulatively over 80 million hectares, twice the size of Germany. Made possible by a grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, GCF provides financial and strategic assistance to enable local communities, nongovernmental organizations and governments to protect their biological riches. To learn more, visit:

About The New England Aquarium
Located on the Boston waterfront, the New England Aquarium is one of the most prominent and popular aquariums in the United States. Beyond its exhibit halls, the Aquarium is also a leading ocean conservation organization with research scientists working around the globe, biologists rescuing stranded marine animals in New England and staff consulting with the major seafood businesses to promote sustainable fisheries. For more information:

About World Heritage
UNESCO’s World Heritage List includes 981 properties in 160 nations. Of these, 46 sites are inscribed specifically for their outstanding marine value. The World Heritage marine sites cover 20 % of all marine protected areas by surface area. For more info, visit

Share article on social media or email:

View article via:

Pdf Print

Contact Author

Kevin Connor
Conservation International
Email >