Joseph Uravitch, director of NOAA's National Marine Protected Areas Center, was excited to hear about the move and hopes it signals a growing international trend.
"I was at the International Marine Protected Areas Congress in Australia last year and I was impressed by the number of countries around the world that are looking at establishing reserves as a means of long-term conservation for their resources," he said.
Fund to Replace Fishery
Kiribati consists of 33 islands and only 313 square miles (811 square kilometers) of land. But the country is spread out over nearly two million square miles (five million square kilometers) of Pacific Ocean between Fiji and Hawaii (see map).
The new park will require the closure of a commercial fishery that is one of the poor nation's economic mainstays. The few local residents will be allowed to continue subsistence fishing in park waters.
Commercial fishing rights in the now-protected region had been licensed to foreign fleets, whose fees provided an economic boost.
Kiribati's international partners have established a fund to help replace that lost revenue.
"Kiribati is a developing country, and that income has been important to them," said Tony LaCasse, New England Aquarium spokesperson.
"There was a desire to be able to create an income stream for the government that would replace [fishing] revenue. So with Conservation International we've begun the process to create an endowment fund."
LaCasse notes that the plan is similar to others enacted by Conservation International in Central American rainforests.
But the Phoenix Islands Protected Area will be conservation on a rare scale.
"This is a major milestone for marine conservation efforts in the Pacific and for island biodiversity," said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International.
Free Email News Updates
Sign up for our Inside National Geographic newsletter. Every two weeks we'll send you our top stories and pictures (see sample).
SOURCES AND RELATED WEB SITES