The Phoenix Islands, a tiny archipelago in the Central Pacific, was once thriving with marine life and healthy corals. Due to the El Niño event in 2002-2003 the water temperature of these islands raised one degree Celsius for about 6 months resulting in massive coral bleaching.
A decade ago a big part of the income generated by these islands came from selling access to its marine resources to nations like Japan, South Korea and the United States. Scientist then suggested a reverse fishing license to the local government in hopes of conserving the amazing reefs and fish life inhabiting the islands. Funds were generated and in 2006 the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) was established. Two years later it expanded and became the largest protected marine area back then.
All of this effort couldn’t stop the coral bleaching due to climate change, but now the reefs are recovering at a good rate. Scientist believe this is due to the healthy state the reefs were in before, and the still abundant fish life.
When a reef dies it can be covered with seaweed quickly that prevent it from growing back. But fish eat the algae, which can help ensure the reef isn't smothered. Because fish populations had been protected here, the reefs remained surprisingly resilient even after suffering one of the worst coral bleaching events ever recorded.
You can read more about the Pheonix Island's in this National Geographic article that is illustrated with Brian Skerry's photography. Below is a TED talk by Dr. Greg Stone which explains how PIPA was created.
Good news is that now half of the corals are showing signs of new life. As oceans continue to absorb the impacts of human activities and of climate change, we'll need more large protected areas like PIPA to help ecosystems survive and thrive once again. The oceans are our life-support system. There's never been a more important time to take care of them.
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