The Phoenix Islands Marine Protected Area


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The Phoenix Islands Marine Protected Area (PIPA), located within the Republic of Kiribati, is one of the largest marine protected areas (MPA) in the world. Roughly the size of California, this 408,250 km2 reserve hosts 8 islands, 7 of which are uninhabited and 1 (Kanton) that hosts a caretaker population of ~30 people. There are also two shallow submerged seamounts, as well as other deep seamounts as yet unexplored. The inception of PIPA as an MPA in 2008 was a major milestone protecting the cultural and biological treasures of the archipelago. With a unique conservation strategy, PIPA has an endowment plan that will compensate the Republic of Kiribati for its lost fishing license revenues and increased management costs. The largest in the Pacific, the first of its kind, and (as of 2010) the largest marine UNESCO World Heritage Site on the planet, PIPA is superlative in every way possible. The Marine GIS group is working with researchers from around the world understand and protect this relatively unexplored and pristine marine wilderness through collaborative Geo-Portals, integration of satellite data, and geospatial analysis.


Due to its extreme isolation and lack of regular human influence, PIPA is highly valued as a climate change reference site, and is one of the only reefs that can be used to calibrate anthropogenic impact on a global scale. Of the many issues that plague the world’s oceans, climate change and associated ecosystem demise threaten marine life everywhere, even in the most remote regions of the planet. With increasing human impact along coastlines and continents, there are vanishingly few places where science can examine the ability of an ecosystem to withstand or rebound from the changing climate. The Phoenix Islands are a remote archipelago in the Central Pacific that sits at the origin of an increasingly frequent ENSO (El Nino / Southern Oscillation) hotspot. The Phoenix Islands recently suffered the most severe thermal stress event ever recorded. As a result of these high temperatures, the Phoenix Islands’ reefs experienced catastrophic bleaching and subsequent mortality. Remarkably, many of the reefs rapidly rebounded within a short (6 year) period, due in part to the lack of a local human population, thereby providing a natural laboratory on an unprecedented scale to examine the science of resilience and recovery.


To achieve comprehensive understanding of PIPA as an ecological baseline, as an innovative MPA, and as a natural laboratory for decoupling local versus global impacts of climate change, a massive undertaking is underway to acquire cutting edge data from the physical, chemical, geological and biological realms. Accessing these data across filetypes, expertise, and geographic distance is a major challenge that PIPA science must overcome: in general, it is estimated that only 1% of data from ecological studies is accessible after the completion of a publication, and it has been argued that analysis techniques are often lost. In addition, from a recent Science poll (Feb 2011), 89% of researchers archive their data only in their own lab or university servers. Providing access to the most recent and relevant data while protecting the intellectual property of scientists is possible with the advent of Web 2.0 technologies, cloud-based distributed servers, and open source geospatial technologies. We hope to build a Web-Based Geospatial Portal for the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPAGeo) that will allow researchers and managers to search data through a map interface, store and analyze data, plot and visualize results, and export cartographic products, all-the-while providing collaborative tools for researchers and managers to communicate more effectively. The goals are to foster collaboration between researchers, provide science-based management for the ecosystem, and to provide spatial analysis toolsthat will enable more effective communication. This project will combine existing technologies of data management (including input, archiving and retrieval), visualization of 4-Dimensional data, and social / collaborative tools into a single framework that can be accessed via one cloud-based portal. There are many available options for data management, exploration, and collaboration for large-scale projects, but these resources are scattered in different repositories. This project will integrate these tools to provide a data- and visualization-rich experience for each scientist to explore patterns and processes across diverse disciplines linked together in place.

PIPA Poster

PIPA Poster (click to view larger version)

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