The tiny Pacific islands nation of Kiribati declared the world’s largest marine protected area Thursday _ a California-sized ocean wilderness that includes pristine reefs and eight coral atolls teeming with fish and birds.
The Phoenix Islands Protected Area, or PIPA, lies about halfway between Hawaii and Fiji and also includes undersea mountains. It will conserve one of the Earth’s last intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems.
Kiribati Environment Minister Tetapo Nakara said the government wanted to conserve the area’s ”biological diversity.”
”The coral reefs and bird populations of the islands are unique, virtually untouched by man _ a true wilderness of natural beauty,” he said Thursday in announcing the marine reserve.
Nakara said his ministry hopes to fully establish the 164,200-square-mile area as a protected zone by the end of the year with the goal of attracting more tourists to Kiribati _ an impoverished coral atoll nation of about 95,000 people. About 50 people live on one of the protected atolls.