Creating the world’s largest marine reserves

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) today, 11 February 2015, urges the British government to protect over 1.8 million sq km of the world’s ocean by creating marine reserves in three of the UK’s overseas territories.

Working with a coalition of leading conservation organisations, we are calling for marine reserves around the Pitcairn Islands, Ascension Island and the South Sandwich Islands. If created, they would be three of the largest marine reserves in the world and provide support for rare and threatened species, from whales and turtles to rare seabirds, penguins and corals.

The UK is responsible for the fifth largest area of ocean in the world, measuring 6.8 million square kilometres, over twice the size of India, and nearly 30 times the size of the UK itself. These waters are amongst the most diverse marine portfolio on earth, with the Overseas Territories housing 94% of the UK’s unique biodiversity. If left unprotected, these fragile ecosystems face huge threats from overfishing, illegal pirate fishing, pollution and climate change.

Shark © Enric Sala

Along with ZSL, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Greenpeace UK, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Marine Conservation Society, National Geographic Society and the Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) have joined 106 signatories in signing a statement of support for the creation of these large-scale marine reserves.

Dr Heather Koldewey, Head of Global Conservation Programmes at ZSL says: “Diving in Pitcairn showed me what our oceans should look like – abundant marine life thriving in pristine waters. The potential protection of Pitcairn and other globally important refuges by the UK government would demonstrate positive, effective leadership in ocean conservation.”

Fiona Llewellyn, Coordinator of Great British Oceans says: “The UK has this unique opportunity to act today and do something monumental for our ocean and our planet. These marine reserves make good economic and good environmental sense. They will help us to protect entire ecosystems, fish stocks and numerous threatened species for generations to come.”

Increasing pressure is mounting on the British government to meet the globally agreed target of protecting 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. In September last year, U.S President Barack Obama significantly expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, a group of five highly protected reserves located thousands of miles southwest of the Hawaiian Islands. By designating Ascension, Pitcairn, and the South Sandwich Islands as reserves, the coalition believes the UK has a unique chance to surpass this commitment and take its place as the world leader in marine protection.

Find out more about ZSL’s work on Great British Oceans


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