Friday, 13 June 2008


The adventurous urge of three humble NAI'A passengers initiated and inspired what is now the world's largest marine protected area. Thanks to the generous funding and tireless participation of Arizona's Kandy Kendall, Iowa's Bruce Thayer and California's Mary Jane Adams, NAI'A's first exploratory diving survey to Kiribati's Phoenix Islands archipelago in 2000 led to the sensational declaration last January of 410,500 square kilometers of conservation boundary around them– that's larger than Australia's Great Barrier Reef. We are more thrilled and grateful to these three individuals than words can properly express.

Kandy Kendall
Bruce Thayer
Conservation catalysts - Kandy Kendall and Bruce Thayer.

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area, or PIPA as it is commonly known, has grabbed mainstream media headlines all year in a brilliant coup for global marine protection boldly staged by one of the smallest, most threatened nations on the planet: The Republic of Kiribati. The details of the MPA are presented at

You may have already heard about the tenacious pursuit of the MPA by New England Aquarium's Dr Greg Stone and his team of scientists, the crucial endowment deal closed by Conservation International and the awarded environmental foresight of Kiribati President, Honorable Anote Tong. Phoenix's eight atolls and surrounding deep ocean are highlighted by National Geographic and nominated for World Heritage status. Probably you have read in NAI'A newsletters about our many expeditions there since 1997, first with TIGHAR looking for Amelia Earhart's remains, and then with divers and biologists completing the first underwater surveys. NAI'A is the only vessel with an intimate knowledge of this remarkable but remote coral archipelago.

But what most people don't know is that a handful of the most dedicated NAI'A divers started the whole PIPA ball rolling. Without their exploratory vision and trust in us, the Phoenix Islands would still be unheard of and exploited. Thank you, Kandy, Bruce and Mary Jane. You genuinely embody the famous words of anthropologist, Margaret Mead:

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

It began almost accidentally when Rob and Cat briefly glimpsed the overwhelmingly abundant fishlife of Nikumaroro while setting moorings during NAI'A's first Amelia Earhart search expedition with TIGHAR. The experience kept them awake at night for a couple of years until our friend and many-time NAI'A guest Kandy Kendall said,

I want to do something new and brave with NAI'A. Is there anywhere left to truly explore?

Kandy's substantial start-up funding of our goal to put marine scientists and experienced sport divers together to survey under the Phoenix Islands made our first 21-day excursion possible. Bruce Thayer and Mary Jane Adams leapt at the opportunity too, sponsoring and assisting the final three expert biologists of the survey team. Then Dr Craig Cook brought not only his diving knowledge but also his emergency medical skills to the party of explorers. And finally, Australian cameraman, Alex Morrison, donated his time and steady film-eye to document the expedition topside.

Watch the short film made about the PIPA project or read the Skin Diver magazine feature about the journey, Sharks on Prozac, Coral on Steriods.

Mary Jane summed up Phoenix 2000 beautifully:

It was an unforgettable experience and a major highlight of my 25 years of diving. When I signed up for the project, I hoped that we would discover at least a few good dive sites. The Phoenix Islands expedition exceeded my most optimistic expectations. Diving with New England Aquarium biologists greatly enriched my understanding of tropical reefs and their inhabitants. If I ever get this kind opportunity again I will grab it.

Mary Jane also joined NAI'A as reef invertebrate researcher for the 2002 Primal Ocean Project survey led this time by the now deeply committed New England Aquarium and Conservation International scientists and covered in National Geographic. Dr Greg Stone seized the baton of protection for Phoenix and ran with it. His energy, diplomacy and colleagues quickly transformed that hopeful NAI'A discovery tour into a ground-breaking global conservation vision which culminated in the 2006 declaration of PIPA and this year's expansion of the preservation zone to be the world's largest. It grew beyond our wildest dreams, as Bruce Thayer eloquently expresses.

It's been a long road? But my role in Phoenix is turning out to be one of the absolute high points of my life; a singular something that will be left behind when I've burped my final bubble.

We hope to do it all again in Central Fiji/Lomaiviti where, just as NAI'A divers discovered in Phoenix, something extraordinary is going on under the surface.

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