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World Heritage Site

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Phoenix Islands

Phoenix Islands

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area is a remote marine ecosystem known for its high biodiversity. The area consists of eight atolls and two submerged coral reefs. The islands and surrounding areas are home to some 120 species of coral and more than 500 species of fish. They are located in the central Pacific Ocean.

On January 28, 2008, the government of Kiribati formally declared the entire Phoenix group and surrounding waters a protected area, making its 410,500 square kilometres the world's largest marine protected area. The islands are all uninhabited, except for some fishermen and officials on Kanton.

Map of Phoenix Islands


  • Natural

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Site Info

Full name: Phoenix Islands Protected Area

Unesco ID: 1325

Inscribed: 2010

Type: Natural

Criteria: 7   9  

Link: By Name By ID

Site History

  • 2010 - Inscribed 


The site has 1 locations.

  • Phoenix Islands


The site has 29 connections.


  • Coral: "one of the world's last intact oceanic coral archipelago ecosystems" (AB ev)
  • Turtles and tortoises: turtle nesting and feeding grounds (green turtle)
  • Whales: Bryde's whale (Balaenoptera edeni), sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus), dwarf sperm whale (Kogia simus), pygmy sperm whale (Kogia breviceps), short-finned pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus), killer whale (Orcinus orca), false killer whale (Pseudorca crassidens), pygmy killer whale (Feresa attenuate), melon-headed whale (Peponocephala electra) (UNEP-WCMC)
  • Lagoons: There are three atoll islands with associated lagoons (AB ev)


  • Marine sites
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Formerly inhabited islands: Only 1 of the 8 Atolls is currently inhabited (Kanton - 24 inhabs). However in 1938 UK initiated the "Phoenix Islands Settlement Scheme". This is said by wiki to have been "the last attempt at human colonisation within the British Empire". The 3 Islands were then known as Gardner, Sydney and Hull. The scheme was not a success and the remaining families were evacuated in 1963. The islands are now officially "Uninhabited".
  • Polynesia: The main islands of Kiribati(The Gilbert Islands), to which they belong, are considered part of Micronesia. But the Phoenix Islands lie significantly to the SE and are geographically within the "Polynesian Triangle". Also, although they are now largely uninhabited, there are Polynesian archaeological remains e.g "(Orona ) contains evidence of prehistoric Polynesian inhabitation. An ancient stone marae stands on the eastern tip of the island, together with ruins of shelters, graves and other platforms."
  • Deepest: 6000 mtrs deep
  • Largest area: "The affirmative decision makes PIPA the largest and deepest World Heritage site in the world, covering an ocean territory more than 408,000 km2 (nearly 250,000 mi2, or roughly the size of California) and 6000 meters deep."
  • Seamount
  • Archipelagos: Volcanic and deposition) "A group of 8 atolls and 2 submerged reefs" (Wiki)
  • Atoll: "collection of atolls"
  • Situated in one of the SIDS: Kiribati (2010)


  • Castaways or shipwrecked mariners: Amelia Earhart
  • History of Aviation: site of Amelia Earhart's planecrash
  • Once Claimed for the USA: Claimed by US under the Guano Islands Act of 1856 ("federal legislation passed by the U.S. Congress that enables citizens of the U.S. to take possession of islands containing guano deposits. The islands can be located anywhere, so long as they are not occupied and not within the jurisdiction of other governments" - Wiki). UK also claimed them as part of Gilbert and Ellis. Situation not fully resolved until Treaty of Tarawa between US and Kiribati in 1979 when some (but not all) islands were "given up" by the US.

Religion and Belief

  • Phoenix: The name "Phoenix" for this group of islands seems to have been settled on in the 1840s, after an island of that name within the group. Phoenix Island was probably named after one of the many whaleships of that name plying these waters in the early 19th century. (wiki)


  • Cretaceous: Atoll and reef island development began when the volcanic foundations were still emergent islands in the Cretaceous to Eocene periods (AB ev)


  • Built or owned by British: Were part of the British "Gilbert + Ellis Islands. The atoll of "Orona was leased in 1916 to a Captain Allen of the "Samoan Shipping and Trading Company", and became a copra plantation. Allen's lease was bought out by the British government in 1938." (Wiki)
  • Built or owned by Americans: "Kanton .... was eventually abandoned after serving a brief stint as a U.S. missile-tracking station. Today, the island still exhibits the remains of the airline and military presence, with 41 persons (as of 2005) residing there, most living in abandoned structures from the U.S./UK occupation (1936-1976)." (Wiki)
  • Located in a microstate: Land Area/Pop (2009 est) Phoenix Islands - Kiribati 811 sq km/98000
  • First inscriptions: Kiribati 2010
  • Isolated WHS: Roughly 2,767 KM from Chief Roi Mata's Domain
  • Takes more than 5 days to visit: by private or chartered yachts only, or a 15 day cruise  Link

WHS on Other Lists

World Heritage Process


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