In 2008, President Tong and his government declared 150,000 square miles of the Phoenix Islands marine area a fully protected marine park, making it off limits to fishing and other extractive uses. It is the largest marine protected area on Earth. It was made a United Nations World Heritage Site.
Wow! Think about the magnitude of this decision! Yes, there probably is poaching going on, and enforcement will be a challenging task. But imagine that there now is a vast protected area where coral reefs, sharks, groupers, tuna, giant clams and everything else in between potentially have a chance to rest and replenish.
Tong explained that it was intended as "a significant contribution to the world community in the hope they would also act".
His statement gives me hope, but it also makes me sad. Essentially, one of the least fortunate island nations in the Pacific is making a huge sacrifice (financially and economically) by stopping all commercial exploitation of their region.
So many island economies depend on the income of commercial fishing permits that are sold to Taiwan, Japan and China. By creating this vast MPA, President Tong is taking a heroic step towards saving the Pacific ocean, yet, it probably won’t save his own nation.
Speaking up on climate change: President Tong has attracted international attention by warning that his country may become uninhabitable by the 2050s due to rising sea levels and salination provoked by climate change. Tong has stated on several occasions that Kiribati may cease to exist altogether, and that its entire population of 94,000 may need to be resettled as climate refugees.
Climate Change in Kiribati
As a tiny island nation makes a big sacrifice, will the rest of the world follow suit?
Phoenix Islands Protected Area