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"Sister Site" Partnership Established Between Papahānaumokuākea and Kiribati's
Phoenix Islands MPA

View from the Phoenix Islands. Photo: David Obura
On Wednesday, September 23 in New York, two of the world's largest marine protected areas announced a historic alliance to to better protect and manage almost 300,000 square miles of marine habitat in the Pacific Ocean.

The United States and the Nation of Kiribati signed an agreement on Setpember 23 in New York that establishes a "sister site" relationship between the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, located in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands, and the Phoenix Islands Protected Area near the equator in the Republic of Kiribati. Managers of both sites will meet in November in French Polynesia to formalize the agreement. The Monument is managed by the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS), on behalf of NOAA, in partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the State of Hawaii. Combined, the two sites encompass 25 percent of all marine protected areas on Earth. The partnership links the sites and is designed to enhance management knowledge and practices for these tropical and subtropical marine and terrestrial island ecosystems.

The Phoenix Islands. Photo: David Obura
When it was established in 2006, the Monument was the largest marine protected area in the world, protecting natural, cultural and historic resources within an area of approximately 140,000 square miles (362,075 square kilometers). The monument's extensive coral reefs are home to over 7,000 marine species, one quarter of which are found only in the Hawaiian Archipelago.

In 2008, the Phoenix Island Protected Area was founded to protect the archipelago's terrestrial and marine resources, becoming the largest marine protected area in the world today at approximately 158,500 square miles (410,500 square kilometers). The coral reefs and bird populations of the islands are highly unique and virtually untouched by humans. The protected area also includes underwater seamounts and other deep-sea habitat.

Coral found in the Phoenix Islands. Photo: David Obura
"Our sites are part of a growing trend globally in ocean protection - the establishment of large-scale marine protected areas,' said 'Aulani Wilhelm, ONMS's superintendent for the Monument. "By partnering, we hope to collaborate on innovative initiatives highlighting not only the ecological connections we share, but also Pacific heritage and cultural connections we have as island people across Oceania."

Removed from most human activity, both areas serve as global "sentinel sites" by providing potential early warning and a comparative baseline of understanding of how natural, less disturbed systems react to changing climate conditions and external influences. Although geographically distant from their respective local population centers, both sites are supported by and rely on involvement of local and indigenous communities to develop successful management regimes. Both sites were nominated this year by their respective governments as World Heritage Sites, a designation of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

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