By Beth Daley
Almost a decade ago, New England Aquarium scientist Gregory S. Stone dove in the shimmering waters around the remote eight-atoll Phoenix Island chain between Hawaii and Australia and discovered a slice of ocean so untouched and lush he made it a life cause. Expansive coral reefs there, unlike a third of the world’s reefs facing extinction from climate change, disease, fishing boats and heavy tourism, looked much as scientists' expected they did 1,000 years ago.
Fish passing over the Nikumaroro reef (NEAQ photo/Greg Stone)
Last year, the Republic of Kiribati – of which the atolls and two submerged reefs are part of - more than doubled the original size of a protected area to create the world’s largest marine conservation area. Scientists have found more than 120 species of coral and 520 species of reef fish in the California-sized swath. The area includes underwater mountains and other deep-sea habitat and is bigger than the Great Barrier Reef. It’s been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The arrangement was unique, in large part because Kiribati, with less than 100,000 residents, makes much of its income by selling licensing fees to foreign fleets from the U.S., Korea and other countries. But Kiribati now earns back that revenue because of an endowment fund set up by Conservation International.
Now, Stone is back in the Phoenix Islands for the first time in seven years – and blogging about it. He and fellow New England Aquarium scientist, Randi J. Rotjan are chronicling how the coral reefs, aquatic life, and island nation are handling global climate change and other environmental changes. Through Sept. 20, the team will look at disease, reproduction, genetics and bacterial communities on coral and take a census of the marine life there. And they will be joined by Brian Skerry, the photographer known for his National Geographic Magazine spreads who is the Aquarium’s new Explorer in Residence.
Today, Stone posted the first dive pix as they hit their research site at Nikumaroro, one of the chain’s atolls. The whole expedition team will be blogging about it regularly. It’s rare you get such a close up look into such a remote place. Link is here.
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