Phoenix Islands, Kiribati

The eight atolls of the Phoenix Islands in Kiribati represent the largest marine protected area in the world. Completely isolated and largely spared from tourists, the atolls, reefs and extinct underwater volcanoes of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area provide a protected habitat for corals, fish and birds alike.

The Phoenix Islands belong to the island nation of Kiribati in the South Seas. Kiribati is located in the middle of the Pacific Ocean south of the equator. The next largest island nearby is Samoa in the south. Since 2010, the Phoenix Islands Marine Protected Area has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This makes it not only the largest marine protected area in the world, but also the largest and deepest UNESCO World Heritage Site. We have also included the Phoenix Islands on our list of the top 10 sights in the South Seas.


The paradisiacal Phoenix Islands consist of eight atolls widely scattered across the Pacific. Ranked by size, these are the atolls of Canton (or Arbariringa), Enderbury, Manra (once Sydney Island), Nikumaroro (once Gardner Island), Orona (once Hull Island), McKean, Rawaki (once Phoenix Island) and Birnie. The atolls of the Phoenix Islands cover a total area of 28 square kilometres, with Canton being the largest island at 9 square kilometres.

History of the Phoenix Islands

The Phoenix Islands came into the possession of the British in 1889. During the Second World War, Canton and Enderbury were used as a military base by US troops and co-administered by the USA. Despite intermittent bombing, the Phoenix Islands were never occupied by the Japanese.

After the war, there were brief thoughts of settling the Phoenix Islands to deal with the growing overpopulation on the neighbouring Gilbert Islands. However, this plan was quickly abandoned after the 9-year drought between 1955 and 1964 and the entire population was relocated to the Solomon Islands. The now largely uninhabited archipelago of the Phoenix Islands has belonged to Kiribati since 1979, after the island state gained its independence. Only a few families live on Canton.

Largest marine protected area in the world

Since 2006, the eight atolls of the Phoenix Islands and their surroundings have been considered a marine protected area. This includes the two reefs Carondelet and Winslow, which are 3 to 4 metres under water even at low tide. 14 other underwater mountains have also been discovered, and it is believed that up to 30 of the extinct volcanoes exist in total.

The Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) was designated by the Kiribati government and now covers over 400,000 square kilometres, which is roughly the size of California. This makes the Phoenix Islands Protected Area the largest marine protected area in the world.

This preserves the spectacular biodiversity of the Phoenix Islands, which consists of 120 coral species and around 500 different fish species. The inhabitants of the reef include whole schools of the rare parrot or surgeon fish, dolphins, whales, sharks, rays and turtles.

Visit to the Phoenix Islands

The Phoenix Islands are rarely visited by tourists due to their remoteness, which also contributes to the unspoiled nature of the fantastic islands. The islands of peace and tranquillity offer breathtaking backdrops of sweeping snow-white sandy beaches and gentle turquoise waves. Idyllic azure lagoons provide an unspoiled habitat for 19 different species of wild seabirds to nest and recover from their journey across the Pacific.


Of all Kiribati, the best place to enjoy the beauty of the land is probably the Phoenix Islands - far from traffic, shopping centres, crowds, skyscrapers and air pollution. National Geographic magazine aptly described the Phoenix Islands as a place "where underwater heavens have remained unspoiled and untouched as long as the ocean can remember".

You can only get to the Phoenix Islands by private boat, there is no public transport or tourist infrastructure. Tours start from Canton, where an airstrip for small aircraft has also been built.

Related links:

Contact for a visit to the Phoenix Islands (English)