The protected area covers atolls, reefs and ocean roughly the size of the US state of California within the nation of Kiribati, and when it was created it was described as its gift to the world's future generations.
To help ensure its future the area's conservation trust has received a $US5 million injection to get it set up, half from the government of Kiribati, and half from Conservation International.
Campbell Cooney spoke to the Senior Director of Conservation International's Marine Program Sue Taei and asked her what'll be done with the money.
Presenter: Campbell Cooney
Speaker: Sue Taei, from Conservation International's Marine Program
TAEI: What will be done with it is it's invested in an ANZ Trust account under the PIPA Conservation Trust and the interest only will be used. So within the first year of the funds being invested and they're in the bank now actually in Australia, the interest will be used to fund court costs of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area management plan implementation, so that provides for core staffing, provides for expertise on Kanton and provides for a range of increased surveillance and monitoring and other activity.
The second part of the interest earned on the money will provide a small amount of money to operate the PIPA Conservation Trust office. We have an executive director there in Tarawa, that is employed under the Trust, that's to add (inaudible) so it supports its operation to build the Trust further with Kiribati. And we're very happy, we're on track. It's a major boost and what's especially pleasing about this is that Kiribati has quite literally put its money where its mouth is. It's invested its hard earned money in the Trust, because it believes it. CI believes in to. We partnered in the Phoenix Island design and establishment since 2005 and we're very happy to put our money where our mouth is too. And it's the first phase of the trust and the single largest marine protected area investment in a trust yet to date in this region.
COONEY: Earlier this year, as you will well remember, there were some allegations by environmental groups that Kiribati was not taking the area seriously, that they were I think the words they used were giving lip service to it, but were still letting fishing happen in parts of the areas. Do you think the fact that the Kiribati government has been part of setting up this Trust will answer those critics?
TAEI: I'm sure they would and I'm very happy to answer the critics. First and foremost, I'm very disappointed that such conservation groups didn't bother to contact their follow NGOs to get the facts. Now the facts are freely available on PIPA's website and they're embodied in their management plan about what Kiribatis said it would do and how it would do it and when it would do it.
Now there is fishing, there has always been fishing in that area. There's fishing in your Great Barrier Reef marine protected area to this date. Like (inaudible), PIPA is a large multiple use marine protected area, like (inaudible), we embody, build a phased approach, building resources and capacity over time to implement the management plan.
PIPA is completely on track with everything it said it was going to do and if the next phase, that we're heading to now is to deal with the offshore issues. The coastal and island issues were prioritised - they are done. Now they have a sustainable source of financing to cover the core effort. We're now turning our attention to the wider offshore issues, including tuna.
Now, if anybody thought that in the heart in the world last remaining, richest, most fought-over tuna fishing ground in the world today and that's the Central Pacific Ocean and the tuna fishing there worth billions a year. If anyone thought it was going to happen overnight or is easy or straightforward to do, to set up a large marine protected area, that would contribute to tuna conservation management, then they're not in reality. We're on track and we take great exception to pot shots being made without checking the facts first. There is fishing in Kiribati waters. Over three million square kilometres of EEZ - it's one of the main forms of income. They've made a commitment to PIPA, within PIPA a phased approach - coast issues first and island issues. Second phased-in with offshore and that's where we are now and we are not track with what we said we would do and so is Kiribati.
COONEY: All right. Looking at those offshore issues that you've set there as a priority. Explain what they are and how that is working please?
TAEI: When we designed this initiative with Kiribati and within the New England Aquarium, tuna fishing was under a different management regime and what we believed might work was called a Reverse Fishing Licence - and in this sense paying not to fish, to close off areas so that there was less fishing or no fishing pressure. That's started. But in the meantime, under the parties to the Nauru Agreement, there's been increasing success with what's called a Vessel Day Scheme, and that's come into play in the last few years and it's a great initiative and CI fully supports the PNA Scheme.
We're now looking at how that affects management of fisheries in PIPA, because there is an option of spacially restricting where these large purse seiners go in Kiribati waters and to protect PIPA more from tuna fishing and associated impacts by a simple spacial restriction. That option has been investigated with Kiribati and the partners. It's not fully worked through yet. It's a work in progress and we're well within the management plan timeframe to do that. The management plan started in 2010, the first one ends in 2014 and I am fully confident that those issues will be fully resolved to Kiribati and partners' satisfaction.
Kiribati has made statements saying it intends to close PIPA to fishing. We've got to work with them to how to make that happen and 'the how' takes time. It does not happen overnight and anyone who's ever done any work in this area would understand that fully.
COONEY: After the offshore issues, give me a little bit of gazing into that crystal ball. What would you like to see happen next?
TAEI: We would like to see the PIPA Conservation Trust fully capitalised to maintain PIPA forever - that's how the laws are set up Kiribati, to set this up for the long, long term, to have a secure source of sustainable financing that will mean that Kiribati can manage PIPA well.
PIPA is the first large scale MPA by a Pacific Islands Small Developing State, by a least developed country. It is building capacity and interest in wider conservation measures in other parts of Kiribati, in the Line Islands particularly and in the Gilbert Islands. We also are fostering partnerships.
Right now, this morning, the second day of the meeting between senior US officials and Kiribati officials on cooperation between the US Island Marine Protected Areas - because the US owns two island in the Phoenix Chain, Howland and Baker and Kiribati is happening this morning.
We think these models are spreading, that they're relevant to the Pacific, whether you're a developed country or a developing country and that for tuna, which seems to be a hot topic, we believe that this PIPA is the first regional experiment, if you like, to see if a large culling PA will contribute positively, negatively or make no impact to tuna conservation management.
Twenty five years ago, I had the head of fisheries in the region tell me that coastal MPAs were a waste of time for fisheries. Now, 25 years later, you wouldn't hardly find anyone in the region, community, fishing, officer or traditional leader that doesn't give support to these coastal MPAs.
We don't have two decades or more to prove that marine protected areas should be core business for managing offshore fisheries as well, that they have a role to play on spawning grounds, to protect sharks as well, as be a conservation measure for tuna. We don't have those two decades in tuna.
The Pacific Island countries are managing the world's last significant remaining tuna fisheries that are in any state of decent health. We've got to put these measures in now, find a full sweep of tools that will work and places like PIPA are leading the research, the management and the thinking behind this sea change or ocean change really.
COONEY: You've got your Trust in place, you've got a $5 million injection to get it going. Kiribati, I think I got it right, when I said that they put it forward as they're gift to the world's future generations. Would you like to see other countries who are receiving that gift, perhaps also take part and donate to that trust as well?
TAEI: Well, exactly, and you can donate to the PIPA Conservation Trust and to PIPA projects. And, in fact, the whole program has received many areas of support, including from the Australian government over the years. It does need help.
Kiribati is a very, very small country with limited capacity, but it's stepped up and other countries of the regions, the Cook Islands, have stepped up and made its commitment. Tokalau as well and also New Caledonia's Coral Sea MPA to match the wonderful one that Australia has put in.
These commitments by the Pacific Island nations take time, but when they take time to realise. But when these leaders and they're countries step up. CI believes we should be in there supporting them and we're united in the world's largest ocean management effort.
The Pacific Island Forum leaders, a few years back, endorsed the Pacific Ocean Scape and all of these large MPAs, PIPA, the Cooks Marine Park, they're all commitments to a wider frame reservation management that is not matched anywhere in the world today.