World's largest marine reserve announced by UK government

The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) today congratulates the UK government on its decision to create the world’s largest marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands.

Humpback whale, Henderson
Humpback whale, Henderson. Image: Tara Proud, RSPB

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced in the Budget that: “The government intends to proceed with designation of a MPA around Pitcairn”. This decision begins the process of creating a fully protected marine reserve, extending from 12 miles offshore of Pitcairn Island to the full 200 nautical mile limit of the Territory’s waters, encompassing over 830,000 square kilometres of ocean, an area about 3.5 times the size of the UK. The decision to create the reserve around the UK Overseas Territory in the South Pacific has been welcomed by leading conservation groups, scientists and residents of Pitcairn Island. 

Pitcairn’s waters host some of the best-preserved marine ecosystems on the planet and are of globally significant biological value. Over 1,200 marine species have been recorded around Pitcairn, including whales and dolphins, 365 species of fish, turtles, seabirds and corals. Forty-eight of these species are globally threatened – such as the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, and some are found nowhere else on Earth – such as the Pitcairn angelfish.

Fiona Llewellyn, ZSL’s Marine Reserves Coalition Coordinator said: “The announcement of the Pitcairn Marine Reserve marks a globally significant step towards better stewardship of our oceans. We congratulate the UK government on this decision and now look to other governments around the world to follow the UK’s lead and do more to safeguard our marine biodiversity for generations to come.”

With the designation of the marine reserve, Pitcairn’s waters will become off-limits to all extractive and damaging activities, offering protection from overfishing and illegal pirate fishing, as well as deep-sea mining exploration, pollution and climate change.

In February 2015 a coalition of over 100 conservation and environmental organisations and scientists, including ZSL, launched the Great British Oceans campaign, to encourage the government to create fully protected marine reserves in the UK Overseas Territories, principally around the Pitcairn Islands, Ascension Island in the Atlantic and the South Sandwich Islands in the Southern Ocean. The coalition today praises the creation of the Pitcairn marine reserve as a monumental step for ocean conservation.

Members of the Great British Oceans coalition now look forward to working with the government on expanding the UK’s marine reserve network throughout other Overseas Territories, and the possibility of designating reserves in the waters of Ascension Island and the South Sandwich Islands in the near future. 

Excepting today’s announcement, only around 3% of the world’s ocean has any protection at all, and less than 1% is classified as ‘fully protected’. This is despite commitments from 194 countries to protect 10% of the entire global ocean by 2020. The designation of the Pitcairn marine reserve means that the UK government is now fully protecting nearly a quarter (22%) of waters under British jurisdiction, and has increased the global fully protected area by 25%.

The announcement of the designation of a Pitcairn marine reserve means that the UK now has the two largest marine reserves in the world, the second largest being the Chagos marine reserve created around the British Indian Ocean Territory in 2010.

In conjunction with the designation, the Bertarelli Foundation announced a five-year commitment to support the monitoring of the Pitcairn reserve as part of Pew’s Project Eyes on the Seas. With this satellite system, developed by Pew and the UK-based Satellite Applications Catapult, government officials will be able to monitor and protect the reserve’s boundaries.

More information

For more information visit the Great British Oceans website, or the Marine Reserves Coalition website

Find out more about ZSL's work in the overseas territories      

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