Pitcairn Island is a very small, very rocky piece of land in the middle of the ocean, a long way from anything else. Its biggest claim to fame is undoubtedly the connection to the Bounty mutineers, however it is the wildlife of Pitcairn and its (very distantly) neighbouring islands which is receiving increasing attention. Despite their tiny size, study of the Pitcairn Islands has revealed wildlife of global significance, both on the land and in the sea. As with many oceanic islands, the isolation of the Pitcairns has led to the evolution of endemic species found nowhere else on earth.
Pitcairn itself, being the only inhabited island in the group, has undergone a substantial transformation from human activity. Much of the land area has been colonised by non-native plants, introduced either for cultivation or accidentally by Polynesian settlers, the Bounty descendants and other visitors. Despite these changes to the landscape, 9 endemic plant species still survive, including the Arlihau which is recognised as one of the world’s rarest plants. Cultivation and planting work to preserve these species is ongoing in the island community. There is also a bird species found only on this single island, the small but very charismatic Pitcairn Reed Warbler.
A number of rare species also exist in Pitcairn’s marine habitats, such as Smith’s Butterflyfish and the Pitcairn Angelfish. Globally threatened species such as Green Turtles, Humpback Whales and Grey Reef Sharks are also seen around the island. Large fish communities flourish in the shallow offshore waters, containing species which have somehow ‘hopped’ the great distance to Pitcairn from other Pacific islands. Perhaps most surprisingly, the deepest known tropical coral reef on earth was found in 2012 on a 75 metre deep seamount near Pitcairn.
The other three islands (Henderson, Ducie and Oeno) have undergone little or no human impact, thus representing one of the last places on earth where ‘pristine’ ecosystems unaffected by man might still be found. Henderson supports a number of unique species, including colourful birds such as the Henderson Fruit Dove and Stephen’s Lorikeet. Many marine top predators live on Ducie, Oeno and Henderson’s coral reefs, with Ducie supporting an especially large population of sharks. I would jump at the opportunity to visit these other three islands on my trip, but sadly they are too far away from Pitcairn to be easily accessed. Another time perhaps.
I hope this brief overview has given you some idea of the diversity and value of the wildlife on these four specks in the Pacific Ocean. You may never have heard of Pitcairn Island, let alone Henderson, Ducie or Oeno, but the ecosystems and species found here are globally valuable and irreplaceable. Further research and protection is surely needed, and many of the incredible discoveries in the islands’ marine habitats have only been made in the last few years. The remoteness of the Pitcairn Islands has preserved them so far, but without future action this may not be the case forever.
Select a blog
Every month one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the month.
Get the latest on ZSL's conservation work in Asia.
A new Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo. Bringing you amazing animal facts and exclusive access to the world's scientific oldest zoo.
Discover more about the UK's biggest zoo with our fun blog posts!
Join the ZSL Discovery and Learning team as they venture out of the zoo and in to the wild.
Catch up on our latest Conservation Blogs
Follow the latest news on ZSL’s Arts & Culture projects at ZSL London and Whipsnade Zoos, and ZSL’s conservation work through the lens of the Arts.
ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's elephant keepers give an insight into the daily goings on in the elephant barn.
Read about conservation of tigers in Asia.
One man is boldly going where no other ZSL videographer has gone before - the land of Mountain Chicken Frogs.
From the field, to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
The Wildlife Wood Project has been working in Cameroon since 2007 to encourage better wildlife management in logging concessions.
Updates from penguin conservation expeditions to Antarctica
Amur leopard conservation blog
Meet ZSL Whipsnade Zoo's latest (and leggiest) arrival, a baby giraffe!
Follow the ZSL Biodiversity and Palm Oil team, based in Bogor, Indonesia.
The Chagos marine reserve, designated in 2010 and currently the world’s largest no take marine reserve, is a sought-after spot for marine research.
Follow ZSL conservationists studying desert baboons in Namibia.