Pitcairn to be the world’s largest single marine reserve, UK Budget

UK Chancellor George Osborne announced the go-ahead for the world’s largest single marine reserve at Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific, covering 322,138 square miles (834,334 square km), an area 3½ times the size of the United Kingdom and larger than California and even Texas.

The Pitcairn Islands, officially called the Pitcairn Group of Islands, consist of four volcanic islands – Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie, and Oeno – in the southern Pacific Ocean. Only Pitcairn, the second largest island, with a population of just 56, is inhabited.

Pitcairn islands marine reserve

The Pitcairn Island waters have become the world’s largest single marine reserve. (Image: Pew)

HM Treasury wrote in its document Budget 2015:

“The government intends to proceed with designation of a MPA (Marine Protected Area) around Pitcairn.”

“This will be dependent upon reaching agreement with NGOs on satellite monitoring and with authorities in relevant ports to prevent landing of illegal catch, as well as on identifying a practical naval method of enforcing the MPA at a cost that can be accommodated within existing departmental expenditure limits.”

The islanders welcomed the move, as did two organizations that have worked for the reserve and surveyed wildlife off the islands – the National Geographic Society and the Pew Charitable Trusts (Pew).

According to Pew, the area is home to more than 1,249 species of fish, seabirds and marine mammals and protects “some of the most near-pristine ocean habitat on Earth.”

In the UK, ‘The Budget’, which occurs in March each year, is the day when the Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister) announces in Parliament how much the Government is going to spend during the next 12 months, and how that money will be collected (taxes and duties).

Proposal submitted in 2013

Two years ago, National Geographic and Pew joined the Pitcairn Island Council in submitting a proposal calling for the creation of a marine reserve aimed at protecting the spectacular waters.

Matt Rand, director of Global Ocean Legacy, a project of Pew and its partners, said:

“With this designation, the United Kingdom raises the bar for protection of our ocean and sets a new standard for others to follow. The United Kingdom is the caretaker of more than 6 million square kilometres of ocean – the fifth-largest marine area of any country.”

“Through this designation, British citizens are playing a vital role in ensuring the health of our seas. The Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve will build a refuge of untouched ocean to protect and conserve a wealth of marine life.”

Pitcairn Islands

With only 56 inhabitants, originating from four main families, Pitcairn is the the least populous national jurisdiction in the world. (Image: National Geographic)

According to National Geographic, the move represents a bid by the UK to stop the illegal fishing that threatens wildlife that lives in its territorial waters.

All fishing and seafloor mining will be banned in the reserve, except for traditional fishing around the waters of Pitcairn by the local population.

Thirty percent of British waters globally are now protected, the highest percentage for any nation on Earth.

Enric Sala, a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, said:

“People know Pitcairn because of the Mutiny on the Bounty, but their real bounty is the rich marine life underwater.”

Capital of Pitcairn Adamstown

Adamstown, the capital of Pitcairn. (Image: Wikipedia)

Pitcairn’s inhabitants are descendants of British sailors who mutinied on the Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty (1798), and the Tahitian (or Polynesian) women who settled with them.

Mr. Sala added:

“The Pitcairn Islands have some of the cleanest waters in the world.”

About 20% of all fish caught in our oceans are believed to be landed illegally, despite endless pledges by governments globally to crack down. Reuters quoted a 2009 study that illegal fishing was worth between $10 billion and $23.5 billion annually.

Pew Video – Pitcairn, the world’s largest marine reserve