What is an MPA anyway?

New England Aquarium President and CEO Bud Ris is attending a meeting of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) Trust in Tarawa, Kiribati. He will be accompanied by Conservation Projects Coordinator Regen Jamieson. In this post, Regen gives some background on Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and the Aquarium's involvement in PIPA, one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.
"Our role in the protection and development of our ocean is no mean task; it is no less than a major contribution to the well-being of humanity" — Epeli Hau’ofa, We Are The Ocean, 2008

So before I get into the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) Trust itself, I want to go into a little bit about marine protected areas and PIPA in particular. The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s definition of a MPA is: "Any area of intertidal or sub-tidal terrain, together with its overlying water and associated flora, fauna, historical and cultural features, which has been reserved by law or other effective means to protect part or all of the enclosed environment."

Parrotfish in the Phoenix Islands, photo taken by Aquarium scientist Randi Rotjan during a 2009 expedition

New England Aquarium Overseer Alan Dynner explained in his post in 2009: “Most experts in marine conservation agree that the only way we can ultimately save our oceans for future generations is through marine protected areas (MPAs), where sea life can thrive without interference from fishing, mining, oil exploration, and other human impacts. PIPA is thus a huge step in the goal of saving the world's oceans.” 

PIPA was established under Kiribati law in 2008. It was the first marine protected area (MPA) ever established in Kiribati. At the time, it was also the largest marine protected area in the world, and it was the largest conservation effort of its scale by any developing country. It was an incredibly bold step for this Least Developing Country (LDC) as PIPA Director Tukabu Teroroko touches upon in his post here.

Photo taken by Aquarium scientist Randi Rotjan during 2009 expedition to the remote Phoenix Islands

Since establishment in 2008, any activity that takes place within the MPA boundaries requires a permit. Seven of the eight islands are No Take out to 12 nautical miles.

This maps shows the boundaries of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, the eight atolls and islands, and the current management zones: No Take Zone, Restricted Use Zone and the Purse Seine Exclusion Zone. All areas outside of these zones are non-restrictive, but require a special permit.

During the next phase of implementing the PIPA Management Plan, Kiribati intends to zone an additional 25 percent of the MPA as No Take as measure to conserve tuna stocks. This will increase the No Take zone to 28.1 percent. While this may seem small, this is no mean feat. 25 percent of one of the largest MPAs is over 100,000 square kilometers of open ocean. Most MPAs are not even close to this big! It is notable that when the Great Barrier Reef was established in the 1970s, it included zoning of less than 4 percent of its area.
However, to do this, we must raise sufficient funds in the conservation endowment to off-set any lost revenue. Kiribati gains 35 to 40 percent of its government revenue from the fees it gets from selling foreign fishing licenses. This supports government schools, employees, hospitals and more. They can not afford — like wealthier countries with large MPAs, including the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom — to just loose this critical income and not replace it somehow.

Photo taken by Aquarium scientist Randi Rotjan during 2009 expedition to the remote Phoenix Islands
This is where the PIPA Trust comes in. Using the model of forest concessions (where you pay landowners in the Amazonian rainforest and beyond to NOT harvest their forests for lumber) Kiribati, who owns the Phoenix Islands and the rights to fish in their exclusive economic zone (EEZ), will recoup any losses by receiving income from a conservation endowment.

The PIPA Trust is a separate, non-governmental charity established under Kiribati law. It is the entity that houses and manages the conservation endowment. It has an independent board of directors and each of the founding partners of PIPA have a permanent seat on the board — Kiribati, the New England Aquarium and Conservation International. In addition, the Trust may have six additional directors, and the majority, by law, must be non-governmental members of civic society.

Bud Ris, New England Aquarium President and Chief Executive Officer was nominated by the Aquarium to the board in late 2009. As one of three founding board members, he plays a pivotal decision-making role. In addition to Bud, our friend and colleague Dr. Greg Stone was nominated to represent Conservation International, and representing Kiribati is the Minister of the Ministry of Environment, Lands and Agricultural Development, the Honourable Tirarte Kwong. 

In a future post, I will talk more about the PIPA Trust, our plans to extend the MPA No Take Zones and mechanism through which we will finance this: the Conservation Contract. 

PIPA Trust 2012 Board of Directors meeting, Tarawa, Kiribati. From left to right: New England Aquarium President and CEO Bud Ris, Hon. Tiarite Kwong, Kiribati Minister of Environment, Conservation International's Dr. Greg Stone, and PIPA Trust Executive Director Dr. Teuea Toatu. Photo by Regen Jamieson

 To learn more about MPAs visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_protected_area

- Regen


Arrival in Tarawa - The capital of Kiribati in the Gilbert Islands

After 28 hours of flying and 23 hours of layovers, we finally arrived in Tarawa yesterday. Once on the ground at Bonriki International Airport, we wait in line to pass through immigration.

Then baggage claim ...

Then waited our turn for customs ...

The hotel car service picked us up and we drove along South Tarawa toward Betio to Mary’s Motel, the location of the third PIPA Trust meeting. 

Do island nations have any legal recourse as sea levels rise?

This is a guest post from Peter Shelley, a legal consultant to the New England Aquarium on the Phoenix Islands Protected Area initiative since 2005 and Senior Counsel at the Conservation Law Foundation Massachusetts. In this post he shares his insight on the issue of Kiribati and sea level rise due to global climate change.

There ought to be a law...

Usually, when your neighbor does something that damages your land through no fault of your own, you can run into court. You can both make the neighbor stop and you can receive damages for the loss of the value of your property. No contest. But what if you are a small island developing state (often called a SIDS) like the Republic of Kiribati that also happens to be low-lying? And your neighbor is the United States and your neighbor refuses to accept that their behavior (CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions) is causally linked to the fact that sea levels are rising dramatically. Not so easy.

This map shows Kiribati's location in the Pacific Ocean and the boundaries of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area. 

The magic word here is “baseline.” If one is a country, the baseline is what matters here. The baseline is the line from which all the marine zones adjacent to that country are drawn: the territorial sea (12 nautical miles), the contiguous zone (another 12 nm), the “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ)(200 nm), and the continental shelf (can be as far as 350nm). Kiribati has already lost several islands to sea level rise; are they required to redraw their baseline and yield thousands of square miles of EEZ to the high seas?

Tarawa, Kiribati. 

International law is not ready to respond to the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels. The conventional wisdom (if there is such a thing in international law) is that these zones recede as the baseline recedes. There are other conclusions possible that keep the zones where they are presently set. If you are a country like Kiribati, which is almost exclusively comprised on low-lying atolls, you have the further problem of becoming an international “rock” or even worse: nothing above water. A “rock” is a place in the water that can’t support people or economic activity. Rocks don’t get zones.

Unless things change, Kiribati will go under water (except perhaps Kiritimati in the eastern Line Islands). That immediately raises two issues: the people and the property. As far as the I-Kiribati are concerned, their legal status under international law is not clear. If they are forced off their islands by the developed/developing world, they technically aren’t entitled to refugee status or protection; there is no political persecution. There is no such thing as a “climate refugee” yet.

Ships in Betio port, Tarawa, Kiribati.

If they lose their atolls to sea level rise, they no longer have any territory either. There are a couple of territory-less people who have something like sovereign rights but not really. Another Pacific state could theoretically partition themselves to give the I-Kiribati “territory” but that isn’t likely. So, the people are stuck for the moment until a new treaty, treaty protocol, or other legal vehicle is recognized by the international community. Since the US doesn’t officially believe that humans have caused the sea levels to rise, that may be a long wait. Having the moral high ground is not likely to be enough here.

And what about the Kiribati territorial sea, contiguous zone, EEZ and continental shelf? No one really can say. Scholars are being scholarly and diplomats are diplomating. But that isn’t going to allow Kiribati to protect its sovereign or economic interests in these areas, not to mention its future rights if, for some unforeseen reasons, sea levels recede once more. Those EEZ interests are the financial life blood of the I-Kiribati people today and going forward. The economic support they provide is the only hedge a "de-territorialized" Kiribati has against the real risks of a complete cultural loss.

There won’t be a readily available answer to this issue. The developed world is utterly conflicted on the topic: Kiribati has one of the largest EEZs in the world and exceedingly lucrative tuna fisheries. If the distant water fishing nations do nothing and are allowed to get away with it, they will reap a windfall as the boundaries of the high sea expands.

There ought to be a law against this.

-Peter Shelley


Why does a Boston aquarium work in the Pacific?

Later this month, New England Aquarium President and CEO Bud Ris will be attending a meeting of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) Trust in Tarawa, Kiribati. He will be accompanied by Conservation Projects Coordinator Regen Jamieson. In this post, Regen gives some background on the Aquarium's involvement in PIPA, one of the largest marine protected areas in the world.

So why does a Boston aquarium work in the Pacific? Commuting to my job at the aquarium today I was thinking about this question. If you are a diver or a scientist it is obvious why you would want to go to place like the Phoenix Islands--they are beyond imagination and still virtually unknown to Western science. And if you have followed this blog over the past few years you will have read about Dr. Randi Rotjan and colleagues as they set off on a research expedition to the Phoenix Islands in 2009. My work is not as glamorous or exciting as Randi and our Global Explorers who dive into the most remote and beautiful corners of the oceans. It is a lot of meeting rooms and conference centers.

This is my typical work in Kiribati (at right with glasses on).

This is Randi’s typical work day in Kiribati.

However, I am privileged to be a part of the globally significant conservation work on marine protected areas (MPAs) that our Boston institution is involved in. I represent the Aquarium in our partnership with Kiribati and Conservation International on the policy and administration side of our work on this Very Large Marine Protected Area (VLMPA), as these giant managed ocean areas have recently been coined.

Next week I will be traveling to the capital of Kiribati, to the island of Tarawa. It will be my third trip to Tarawa in two years. This time, I am heading there for the third annual Phoenix Islands Protected Area Conservation Trust board of directors meeting. Bud Ris, New England Aquarium President and CEO, and PIPA Trust board member, and I will be making the trek together. For all intents and purposes, the trip takes three days. To get there we stop in Boston, Los Angeles, Auckland New Zealand, stay overnight in Nadi Fiji and finally arrive in Tarawa.

 View of Tarawa from the plane from when I went to Tarawa in 2010

Over the next two weeks Bud and I will be blogging to you on our work and experiences, on MPAs, the PIPA Trust, the New England Aquarium’s role in the Trust, and more. I hope to help answer this question for those of you who might have pondered of why we work internationally. And we also want to share with you a glimpse of everyday life on an atoll island, in a truly ocean nation whose very existence is under threat by climate change.