Pitcairn Islands - Marine conservation


Given their extremely isolated location in the South Pacific and difficulties of access, the marine habitats of the Pitcairn Islands are some of the least known ecosystems of the UK’s Overseas Territories. However, the pressure on Pitcairn’s marine resources is mounting. Global fishing pressures on migratory species, especially tuna and billfish, have resulted in commercial fishing fleets increasingly approaching the Pitcairn Government to lease their fishing rights. And, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) has proposed that the Pitcairn community develop commercial reef fisheries for export to neighbouring Mangareva in French Polynesia. At present, there is not enough scientific evidence to make informed decisions about how to manage these valuable marine resources sustainably.


Why we are there

Through this project, ZSL is working to underpin the scientific evidence-base for Pitcairn’s marine environment, developing a marine management plan with the Pitcairn Island Community and UK Government, enhancing tourism opportunities and increasing global awareness of Pitcairn’s incredible marine biodiversity.

Additionally, as a member of the Marine Reserves Coalition and the Pitcairn Environment Group, ZSL is actively supporting the Pitcairn Island Community and Pew Charitable Trusts’ proposal for the establishment of a marine reserve in Pitcairn’s waters.


Key achievements and goals

World's largest marine reserve announced by UK government!

In March 2015, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osbourne, announced in the Buget that "the Government intends to proceed with designation of a marine protected area around Pitcairn". This decision initiates the process of creating a fully protected marine reserve, extending from 12 nautical 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.

Pitcairn Island's marine life
Pitcairn Island's marine life

This project began in September 2013. ZSL’s Heather Koldewey went on an expedition to Pitcairn in November/December with project collaborator, Professor Terry Dawson, to initiate the project with the community.

Through the development of an ecosystem-based management plan, ZSL will help the Pitcairn Government to make informed decisions about the sustainable management of Pitcairn’s marine resources.

Working in partnership with the Pitcairn Island Community, we will aim to enhance tourism and raise public awareness of the unique and diverse wildlife of the Islands. 



Project information

Key species

  • Reef fish
  • Sharks
  • Hawksbill and green turtles
  • Whales
  • Dolphins

People involved

  • Heather Koldewey is the ZSL lead for the Pitcairn Islands project.
  • Ana Pinto, Discovery and Learning Outreach Officer, is supporting the outreach components of the project. 
  • Fiona Llewellyn coordinates the activities of the Marine Reserves Coalition and ZSL’s support for the proposed Pitcairn Marine Reserve.

Partners and sponsors

  • University of Dundee
  • Sea-Scope
  • Marine Reserves Coalition (supported by Selfridges Project Ocean)
  • Pew Charitable Trusts
  • Pitcairn Island Council
  • Kindly funded by The Darwin Initiative