Sunday, July 6, 2014

Republic of Kiribati Leads The World In Conservation

Those who like eat fish would not like to see the day without fish. Much less those who relish the gourmet Tuna fish!

There are others who may like fish for other reasons. They catch, sell or trade in fish; it is a multi-million dollar business globally.

But there is yet another class who would like fish for their importance in biological space (biodiversity) because there are innumerable number of fishes of different sizes, varieties, numbers and their role in fresh water or marine ecosystems.

In this context, this post intends to inform the readers of this blog about Kiribati's recent decision to preserve and protect tuna fish stock in a part of the Pacific ocean as a major international initiative.

A view of Kiribati Island

Last month (16th June), at the U.S. State Department’s led ‘Our Ocean Conference’ held in Washington, Anote Tong, President of the Republic of Kiribati formally announced that Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) will close to all commercial fishing by the end of 2014. The only relaxation  was subsistence fishing around Kanto Island.

The decision is part of a larger move to control commercial fishing and safeguard the world’s most important island and ocean areas. The decision is a test case for large-scale  conservation of tuna stocks. The decision assumes importance from the point of view of conservation, interests of future generation and the Kiribati’s future economy. 

The decision is joint effort of Kiribati government, the US agency, Conservation International, and New England Aquarium. PIPA’s closure will take effect ahead of the Marine Protected Area s (MPA) original plan to 28% closure of commercial fishing before 2014 end.

“This is the boldest action taken  by a government I have seen in my career in terms of protecting natural capital and creating critically-needed protected areas,” said Dr.Greg Stone, CI’s chief scientist and chairman of the PIPA Trust Board of Trustees. The PIPA is 11 percent of Kiribati's Exclusive Economic Zone; it is a significant area to set aside for conservation, food security and sustainable development.

President Tong of Kiribati said, “My people have been custodians of our oceans for centuries”, while addressing world ocean leaders from 80 countries. He added that solutions must focus on a united, connected and sustained approach. “Action is our obligation for our children and our children's children. The closure of the Phoenix Island Protected Area will have a major contribution for regeneration of tuna stocks, not only for us but for our global community, and for generations to come.”

Tuna is an economic mainstay of Kiribati and indeed many Pacific Island states. It took nearly two decades for MPAs to be recognized as a valuable approach for coastal fisheries, and the time is now to include MPAs as a vital part of our sustainable tuna strategy,” President Tong said. “We are committed to testing this in the heart of the world’s largest tuna fishery.”

The PIPA is one of the world's most economically important waters left on the planet, and it houses the largest remaining stocks of tuna fish. About 60% of the world’s tuna catch is dominated by fleets from China, Europe, Japan and the U.S., comes from this region.

The UNESCO included PIPA in its World Heritage List in 2010, in recognition of its universally significant ocean wilderness and contribution to ecological and biological processes in the evolution of global marine ecosystems. Its considers increased fishing protection critical to long-term conservation of PIPA's natural value.  

Kiribati government’s action to close the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage site to commercial fishing is an exemplary move by a developing country in order to safeguard global food security in the next century.

Through this conservation effort, Kiribati is investing in its natural resources. This decision is taken in spite of fiscal and political constraints and Kiribati's dependence on fisheries for more than 40% of its national budget. There is also a big question of survival because of the rising sea levels due to climate change.  

With fish stocks rapidly diminishing worldwide, the PIPA’s closure, which represents approximately 11% of Kiribati’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and is the size of California, aims to strengthen tuna stocks that will ultimately be available to commercial fishing outside the protected area for generations to come.

The complete closure of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, except an exemption for subsistence fishing in a populated area, is an important precedence of stewardship for many other World Heritage marine sites which still struggle with unsustainable fishing practices.