Pacific Nation Kiribati 'Sacrifices' Itself To Create Largest Marine Heritage Site

Map of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA). Image:
Kiribati, a Pacific nation of 33 atolls and lying just barely two meters above sea level, is one of the countries that's on the front-lines of climate change. With its very existence is threatened to be wiped out by rising waters, Kiribati recently made a unprecedented decision: despite its overwhelming dependence on fishing, by 2050 it will forbid it in over 150,000 square miles of its marine territory to create the largest marine World Heritage site.According to Kiribati's president Anote Tong, the creation of PIPA intends to send an unwavering message about what legacy of the oceans should be left: "We need to make sacrifices to provide a future for our children and grandchildren."

And it is a huge sacrifice: with a small population of around 100,000 citizens, there's not many sources of revenue other than fish and coconuts (almost half of Kiribati's tax revenue comes from fishing). However, Kiribati has some of the world's most intact coral reefs and healthiest fish populations.

Pacific Oceanscape project larger than US, Canada and Mexico combined
But that's not all: the courageous move to create PIPA is part of President Tong's larger and admirable plan to define a protected area of ocean that's 38.5 million square kilometers (24 million square miles) in size -- larger than the United States, Canada and Mexico combined. Dubbed the Pacific Oceanscape, Kiribati's tenacious president has been collaborating with 16 other Pacific nations for the last two years to bring the massive project into reality.

"It is a large statement on our part"
In an interview with Mongobay, President Tong talks about the difficult battle to create PIPA:

We had to fight our own internal political battles and opinion on this decision, but it is a very large statement on our part. [..]

Ours is a contribution to biodiversity as well as marine fish stocks. Conservation of our fisheries resources brings benefits to the rest of the ocean. No catch zones boost fish populations in outside areas. [..]

PIPA has certainly created a lot of publicity, especially around the issue of climate change facing Kiribati, which is important since how can you care about a country you don't know?

Nevertheless, President Tong rightly emphasizes that ignorance is no excuse when it comes to doing our part for the oceans: "There is a sense of injustice, but also an understanding that until recently, people weren't aware of the impact of their actions. However knowing what we do today, carrying on as business-as-usual is irresponsible and immoral. Failing to take action borders on an act of criminality."

Kiribati is an unique and inspiring example on what forms climate change action can take. You can read more about PIPA on their website and take a look at this video.

More on the Pacific
PBS Airs Must-See Episode about Climate Change and Kiribati: 'Paradise Lost'
Pacific Island Nations Again Plead for Greater Emissions Cuts from Rich Nations
Front-Line Climate Change Nations Stake Out Positions: 1.5°C Temp Rise, 350ppm, Request 1.5% GDP Aid

Related Content on