March 28, 2006

Pacific Island Nation Creates Huge Marine Park

CURITIBA, Brazil -- A tiny island nation in the Pacific Ocean has created the world's third-largest marine reserve, as global efforts to preserve biodiversity widen to include everything from insects to fish to forests.

President Anote Tong of the Republic of Kiribati announced the formation of the park on Tuesday at the 8th United Nations conference on the Convention on Biological Diversity under way this week in Brazil.

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area bans commercial fishing to protect more than 120 species of coral and 520 species of fish inside its 73,800 sq miles. It is the world's first marine park with deep-sea habitat, including underwater mountains.

Bigger reserves are located in Australia and Hawaii.

"If the coral and reefs are protected, then the fish will grow and bring us benefit," the president said in a statement given to reporters here. "In this way all species of fish can be protected so none become depleted or extinct."

Kiribati is located in the central Pacific between Hawaii and Fiji. It is the largest atoll nation in the world, with 33 islands stretching across several hundred miles.

The New England Aquarium in the United States and Conservation International, a non-governmental organization, are helping the tiny country set up the reserve.

The two organizations will help set up an endowment that pays for the park's management costs and compensates the government for revenue lost from granting fewer commercial fishing licenses.

Subsistence fishing will be allowed in the park for local residents.

"This is a major milestone for marine conservation efforts in the Pacific and for island biodiversity," said Russell A. Mittermeier, president of Conservation International.