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Phoenix Islands Initiative

Ocean Life Institute

Conservation Science at El Niño's "Ground Zero" in the tropical Pacific
Coral reefs harbor remarkably diverse and productive animal and plant communities that provide critical ecosystem services to over 500 million people throughout the world’s tropical oceans. Yet despite their economic and cultural significance, coral reefs are in serious trouble. Human activities and global climate change are combining to endanger over 50 percent of coral reefs globally.

There are, however, a few places on Earth where it is still possible to see reefs as they were 1,000 years ago. One such location is the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), a remote group of eight atolls and two submerged reefs just south of the equator in the central Pacific. The resilience of coral reefs in the Phoenix Islands to the potentially devastating effects of ocean warming, and the preservation of a remarkable food web that includes large numbers of top predators, allows PIPA to serve as a “Rosetta Stone” for understanding the ability of coral reef ecosystems to weather the 21st-century burdens we will place on the ocean.

Last updated: September 27, 2013