Birnie Island Wildlife Sanctuary

Name of case study

Birnie Island Wildlife Sanctuary


Phoenix Island group, Kiribati


2006 through PIPA, though Birnie Island has been a wildlife sanctuary since 1975.


Whole island

Area / size

20 hectares

NbS employed

Ecological Islands

Type of NbS

Ecosystem Protection


Government of Kiribati


Government of Kiribati



Design group


Birnie Island lagoon, 2008. Photo by Joann94024.
Birnie Island, 2008. Photo by Joann94024.
Climate change benefits

Preserved habitats can enhance resilience against extreme weather events. Biodiversity conservation, particularly of endangered seabirds like the Phoenix petrel, boosts ecosystem adaptability.

Ecological benefits

Birnie Island protects biodiversity, thus providing significant ecological befits on the island in the marine area around it.

Birnie Island lagoon. Image by EVS-Islands.

Summary of case study

Birnie Island is a small, uninhabited, 20 hectare coral island, and is part of the Phoenix Island group, in the Republic of Kiribati. It is located about 100 km SE of Kanton Island and 90 km WNW of Rawaki Island, formerly known as Phoenix Island.  It is a rare example of an undisturbed island ecosystem in Kiribati. The island serves as an important nesting site for seabirds, including the endangered Phoenix petrel (Pterodroma alba), which breeds exclusively on the Phoenix Islands. All animals on Birnie are classified as ‘fully protected’. Twenty-two species of seabird have been recorded and six are known to breed on the island.  Birnie Island and the surrounding waters and reef are also home to diverse marine life, including coral reefs, fish, and marine mammals. Green Turtles (Chelonia mydas) nest on the beaches. Birnie also has a landlocked supersaline lagoon (Watkins & Batoromaio, 2014). 

Birnie is rarely visited, though a New Zealand-funded scientific expedition to rid the island of rats and other invasive animal species was carried out in 2008. Another expedition to carry out eradication of the population of Polynesian rat was carried out in 2011. Birnie Island was once home to a colony of rabbits, which have been eradicated. 
Kiribati created the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA) in 2006, with the park being expanded in 2008. The 164,200-square-mile (425,300-square-kilometer) marine reserve contains eight coral atolls including Birnie Island. PIPA is one of the World‘s largest marine protected areas, but in November 2021, the Kiribati Government announced it would terminate the protected area to boost tuna fishing (The Guardian, 2021).

Efforts to protect Birnie Island and the Phoenix Islands continue through conservation initiatives, scientific research, and sustainable management practices. These efforts aim to safeguard the ecological integrity of the area while also supporting the livelihoods and cultural traditions of Kiribati’s people.

Conservation efforts within Phoenix Islands area including Birnie Island, involve a combination of scientific research, monitoring programs, and sustainable management practices. These initiatives aim to preserve the ecological integrity of the area while also supporting the socio-economic well-being of Kiribati’s people, who rely on marine resources for food security, livelihoods, and cultural practices.

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