Have you ever heard of the Pitcairn Islands? As an ocean lover, I was surprised that I had never heard of this amazing chain of islands in the southern Pacific Ocean; their closest neighbor, New Zealand, is a distant 2,800 miles (4,500 kilometers) away. A British Overseas Territory, humans only inhabit one of the four islands and the waters surrounding them are teaming with fish, marine mammals, turtles, and pristine coral reefs. Boasting some of the clearest seawater in the world, the remote location of this area has helped keep it protected and allowed sea life to thrive.
Since early 2011 the Pew Environment Group’s Global Ocean Legacy project has been working with the Pitcairn islanders on the idea of establishing a large-scale marine reserve within their waters. In March of 2012, the National Geographic Society and Global Ocean Legacy teamed up to perform a scientific expedition to Pitcairn and surveyed the underwater landscape. Following this expedition, the islanders of Pitcairn joined with the Pew Environmental Trust and the National Geographic society to call upon the British government for the establishment of a large highly protected marine reserve within the exclusive economic zone (the area of ocean from the shoreline out to 200 nautical miles) of the Pitcairn Islands.
Home to the two southern most coral atolls, the deepest, well-developed coral reef in the world, and two known active hot spots of biological richness, Pitcairn is of great interest to marine and conservation scientists. Despite the fact that researchers have only just begun to explore this area, they have already identified 1,249 marine species. This population includes 22 species of whales and dolphins, 2 sea turtles, 365 species of fish, and 48 marine species already classified as critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, or near threatened.
If approved, the Pitcairn marine reserve would be the largest highly protected marine reserve in the world encompassing over 834,000 square kilometers. As a large no-take reserve, the local population would be able to continue the low impact traditional sustenance fishing that they do today, but large commercial fishing would be restricted. The local economy would likely benefit from the increased interest in scientific research, conservation, and tourism. Last month, the Deputy Mayor of Pitcairn visited London in order to champion their cause, they returned home with high hopes that the British government will endorse the proposed marine reserve area.