Giant Marine Reserve Created in South Pacific

Brian Handwerk
for National Geographic News
March 29, 2006

The Republic of Kiribati in the South Pacific has designated an enormous swath of Pacific atolls, coral reefs, and deep ocean to become one of the world's largest marine reserves.

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area safeguards some of the planet's most pristine coral reef ecosystems. The new marine park is the world's third largest, topped only by Australia's Great Barrier Reef and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.

(Read a National Geographic magazine feature on the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.)

The protected region spans some 73,800 square miles (184,700 square kilometers)—a stretch of ocean twice the size of Portugal—and includes eight virtually uninhabited coral atolls.

The reserve is home to a panoply of marine life, including over 120 coral species and more than 500 types of fish—some found nowhere else.

Seabirds and turtles also frequent the region, which lies along key migration routes.

The park includes deep-ocean habitat found in no other marine reserve—protection extends even to seamounts on the ocean floor.

"It's a remarkable atoll marine wilderness area, the most magnificent I have ever seen," said Greg Stone, vice president of global marine programs at the New England Aquarium in Boston.

The New England Aquarium and the nonprofit Conservation International joined Kiribati authorities in establishing the reserve.

Kiribati President Anote Tong announced the initiative at the Eighth UN Conference on the Convention on Biological Diversity in Curitiba, Brazil.

"If the coral and reefs are protected, then the fish will grow and bring us benefit," the president said.

"In this way all species of fish can be protected so none become depleted or extinct."

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