Great British Oceans

Ducie Shark - Enric Sala National Geographic

As a member of Great British Oceans, ZSL is working to protect the marine environments of the UK Overseas Territories.

In February 2015, with our partners, we launched our ‘Great British Oceans’ campaign, calling on the UK government to create globally significant and fully protected marine reserves in a number of the UK Overseas Territories - Ascension Island in the Atlantic, the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific, and the South Sandwich Islands in the Southern Ocean. 

Why we are there

With 14 Overseas Territories in total, the UK is responsible for the fifth largest area of ocean in the world – 6.8 million square kilometres, over twice the size of India and nearly 30 times the size of the UK itself. 

These Territories host the clearest water ever recorded, the largest coral atoll in the world, more penguins than any other nation, and breeding grounds for globally endangered turtles. Many of their ecosystems are fragile and unique and face increasing threat from excessive, as well as illegal pirate fishing, pollution and climate change.

Left unchallenged, unsustainable human activity will cause irreparable harm to the Territories’ extraordinary marine ecosystems and the threatened species they support.

The UK government, in partnership with the governments of the Territories, has the means to create marine reserves in these environmentally significant waters, helping to safeguard species from extinction and preserve entire ecosystems for generations to come.

Key Achievements & Goals

It’s been an extraordinary 12 months for big ocean commitments. On 18 March 2015, one month after the launch of Great British Oceans, the UK government announced that it would create the world’s largest marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands, covering 834,000 km2. A huge success!

This was followed by a commitment from the government to protect precious marine habitats by creating a ‘Blue Belt around the 14 UK Overseas Territories, subject to public support.’

And, in January 2016, the government made a further announcement, declaring that it would create a 234,291 km2 marine reserve in the waters of Ascension. When designated, this will be the largest marine reserve in the Atlantic. Another win for our oceans!

Great British Oceans continues to work closely with the UK and Overseas Territories’ governments and communities, to turn these commitments into reality and ensure meaningful protection throughout the diverse and beautiful waters of the Territories.

Project Information

Key Species

  • Ascension Island Frigate Bird 
  • Green turtle
  • Hawksbill turtle 
  • Bottlenose dolphins 
  • Whales (fin, sei, blue & humpback)
  • Seabirds
  • Sharks
  • Reef fish
  • Coral
  • Penguins

People involved:


  • Blue Marine Foundation
  • Greenpeace UK
  • Marine Conservation Society
  • Pew Charitable Trusts
  • Royal Society for the Protection of Birds


  • Selfridges Project Ocean

News & Blog links: