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UK Government to create world's largest marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands

18th March 2015

Leading conservation groups, scientists and residents of Pitcairn Island today congratulate the UK Government on its decision to create the world’s largest marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands, a UK Overseas Territory in the South Pacific.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, announced plans in the Budget 2015 Report today. 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 800,000 square kilometres of ocean, an area about 3.5 times the size of the UK.

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.

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.

Conservationists and the Island’s residents have been campaigning for the creation of a reserve around Pitcairn since 2013. In February 2015 a coalition of over 100 conservation and environmental organisations and scientists launched the 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.

When taking all 14 of its Overseas Territories into account, 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.  Some 94% of the UK’s biodiversity exists in these Territories.

The coalition, led by the Marine Conservation Society, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Zoological Society of London, the Blue Marine Foundation, Greenpeace UK and the National Geographic Society today praises the creation of the Pitcairn marine reserve as a monumental step for ocean conservation.

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 a quarter.

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.  

Sam Fanshawe, Chief Executive, Marine Conservation Society said:
 “Designation of the Pitcairn Islands as one of the world’s largest Marine Reserves is a significant step toward addressing the deficit in global ocean conservation. It’s good to see the UK Government showing some leadership in marine conservation issues at the international level!”

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