Birnie Island is a small, inhabited coral island, 20 hectares in area, part of the Phoenix Island group, which forms possession of 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 lies at . Birnie island measures only 1.2 km long and 0.5 km wide. There is no anchorage, but landing can be made on the lee beach.
The island is designated as the Birnie Island Wildlife Sanctuary. Kiribati declared the Phoenix Islands Protected Area 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.
Flora and fauna
Birnie Island is low and dry, with a small, shallow lagoon in its southeast sector which is all but dried up. It is treeless, covered mostly with low shrubs and grasses, and was once home to a colony of rabbits, which have since been eradicated. Because of the undisturbed nature of the island, its vegetation, and the large colonies of seabirds which roost there, Birnie Island was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1975. It now forms (as of 2008) part of the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, one of the world's largest marine protected area.
Birnie Island was discovered in 1823 by the London whaling ship Sydney Packet, T. Emmett, Master and named after the ship's owner, the London firm Alexander Birnie & Co.
In the 1860s, the island was claimed under the Guano Islands Act for the United States, though there is no evidence of guano ever being mined there. On July 10, 1889, the British flag was raised, and the island was declared a protectorate of the U.K. A colony was considered but never attempted. In 1899, the island was leased to the Pacific Islands Company, Ltd. In 1916, it was included among the islands leased for 87 years to Captain Allen of the Samoan Shipping and Trading Company. This lease was taken over by the Burns Philp (South Sea) Company. During all this time, no guano was mined on Birnie, and no human use seems to have been made of it.
Birnie Island became part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony in 1937, which belonged to the British, and then became part of Kiribati in 1979 when the country gained independence. The US gave up its claim in favor of Kiribati in the 1979 Treaty of Tarawa. Birnie is rarely visited today, though a New-Zealand funded scientific expedition to rid the island of rats and other invasive animal species was carried out in 2008.
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On January 30, 2008, Kiribati adopted formal regulations for PIPA that more than doubled the original size to make it at that time the largest marine protected area on Earth.
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