The Phoenix Islands Protected Area, Kiribati:

A UNESCO World Heritage Site

Rotjan Kanton Day 3 (37)

3dPerspective_wSeamounts_11-19-08The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) was first conceived in 2000, formed in 2006 and operationalized in 2008. In 2010, PIPA became the worlds largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage Site (a distinction it still holds), and in 2015, PIPA became fully closed to all commercial extractive activities, making it one of the largest no-take marine protected areas (MPAs on our planet).

Rotjan got involved in 2008, and went on her first PIPA Expedition in 2009. Since then, she has led the PIPA research program with her co-Chief scientist, Ms. Tooreka Teemari (Director of Coastal Fisheries, Kiribati): writing the first science strategic plan in 2010, and the second decade of PIPA science (begun in 2020), together with a diverse team of students, colleagues and collaborators. She has organized over 10 expeditions to PIPA, and has represented the country and the MPA in multiple roles, including as a Kiribati delegate in the 2017 UN Oceans Conference. Rotjan is the co-Chief Scientist for the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) Conservation Trust, alongside Tooreka Teemari, from Kiribati, and is the co-founder and co-Chair of the PIPA Scientific Advisory Committee. Through all of these roles and activities, Rotjan has helped to implement novel structures to apply PIPA science directly to a conservation context, always alongside her Kiribati colleagues. There are numerous examples, but a recent one involves changing the boundaries of the MPA to include Winslow Reef, as a direct result of scientific exploration, discovery, and analysis.

Our scientific work in PIPA has evolved to function in partnership with the needs of the MPA Strategic Science Plan, the 2010-2020 Research Vision. In this way, we are leveraging PIPA as a natural laboratory to study global change in remote and wild environments, but are also studying and innovating new ways to integrate science and management.

Some of our favorite projects include:

  1. Deep Sea Exploration
  2. Open Ocean Dynamics
  3. Coral Reef Resilience
  4. Coral Reef Dynamics
  5. Mesophotic Exploration
  6. Mapping PIPA
  7. Corallivory, wound healing, and microbes
  8. Democratizing PIPA Science
  9. Exploration of Marine Larval Distributions
  10. Demonstrating conservation implications of MPA closure on tuna

Some of our favorite collaborations include open ocean work with SEA and WHOI, and the inception of a new and annual SEA trip to PIPA; inclusion of the 8 PIPA islands into the 100 Islands Challenge in collaboration with our colleagues at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Deep Sea Exploration in PIPA in collaboration with colleagues at Temple, WHOI, and CUNY, and in partnership with NOAA OER and the Schmidt Ocean Institute, democratization of PIPA science in collaboration with National Geographic and the MIT Media Lab, deep-sea microbial diversity and LPS characterization in collaboration with the Kagan Lab at Harvard University, coral reef dynamics and resilience in collaboration with WCS Fiji, NOAA PRIMNM and USFW, mapping PIPA in collaboration with the University of Hawaii and NOAA OER, and so many other aspects and avenues.


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  • Iron Man

    MS student Peter Gawne measures iron pollution in PIPA from shipwrecks and fishing debris

  • Friends on Kanton

    Randi, Tuake, and Teiti have a mini reunion on Kanton Island, in PIPA (October 2017)

  • In the Lab

    Lara and Brenna work on PIPA photomosaics

  • ROV SuBastian - SOI

    The #DeepCoralsofPIPA crew check out the ROV SuBastian on the R/V Falkor

  • PIPA partners

    Rotjan, Mangubhai, and others celebrate the Phoenix Islands on a shorter trip to American Samoa, highlighting the partnership between PIPA and the PRIMNM