The World’s Biggest Marine Reserve Was Just Created in the Pacific Ocean

Mutiny on the Bounty is a tale about the Royal Navy ship Bounty. On April 28, 1789, Fletcher Christian led sailors in a mutiny against their captain, Lieutenant William Bligh. So the story goes, the captain was set afloat in a small boat along with crew members who were loyal to him, while the mutineers settled on Pitcairn Island or Tahiti and burned Bounty off Pitcairn to avoid detection.

Today Pitcairn island’s population is about 50 people, including descendants of Fletcher Christian, and the surrounding waters where the Bounty supposedly went down in flames has just become the world’s largest contiguous ocean reserve.

This is great news for the sanctity of the Pacific ocean and its inhabitants.

The Pitcairn Islands is the last remaining British Overseas Territory in the Pacific, made up of four of the most remote islands in the world, situated in the central South Pacific, halfway between New Zealand and South America.

The newly appointed 322,138-square-mile reserve is roughly 3 ˝ times the size of the United Kingdom, and home to at least 1,249 species of marine mammals, seabirds and fish.

This underwater development in the remote Pacific Ocean will now be protected thanks in part to the Pristine Seas project, which National Geographic and Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Enric Sala launched to find, survey and help care for the last wild parts of the ocean, using a combination of exploration, scientific research, economic analysis and more.

The project relies on global leaders, local communities, tourism operators, nongovernmental organizations and even the military—to help manage protected areas such as the Pitcairn Islands, because like national parks, marine protected areas not only need to be set aside, but also managed over time.

The Pitcairn Islands development was not the project’s first success. So far the Pristine Seas project has helped to inspire country leaders to create five large reserves totaling over 1.2 million square kilometers. (There’s a cool map on this page showing where the five reserves are.)

For the Pitcairn Islands, becoming the world’s largest single marine protected area didn’t happen overnight. It started with an expedition back in 2012.

The National Geographic Society, in cooperation with the Pew Charitable Trusts, set out on a mission to determine the health of the marine environment surrounding the four Pitcairn Islands. What they discovered was “an exquisite and highly functional ecosystem surrounding two of the more remote islands, filled with large predators and the southernmost functional coral reef ecosystem in the Pacific.”

The Pristine Seas team worked with the leaders of the local community to draft a proposal to create a no-take marine reserve in the entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the islands. The community then took a vote and it was unanimous in favor of creating the reserve, and in January 2013 a joint proposal was submitted to the UK Government for consideration.

In June 2014, National Geographic published a study of their findings in the scientific journal PLOS One, aptly named, The Real Bounty: Marine Biodiversity in the Pitcairn Islands.

Which brings us up to date, and British Prime Minister David Cameron’s announcement of the creation of the world’s largest single marine protected area. On March 18, 2015, the U.K. government established the world’s largest single fully protected no-take marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands, protecting 322,138 square miles of some of the most virgin ocean habitat on the planet.

What exactly is a “marine protected area”? National Geographic describes them as “special places in the ocean designated to help protect and restore marine life and habitat, much like national parks protect wildlife and habitat on land.”

The three major threats to the health of our oceans, according to Nat Geo are: overfishing, marine pollution and the effects of climate change on the ocean (which impacts the temperature and chemistry of ecosystems).

Due to their remoteness and low human population, the Pitcairn Islands contains wildlife in an almost pristine state, including intact deep-sea habitats with many species new to science. The protected area is home to one of the world’s two remaining raised coral atolls, as well as “40 Mile Reef,” the deepest and most well-developed coral reef known to humans.

The Real Bounty findings revealed rare species such as the false catshark, 70 species of hard corals, the world’s deepest-known living plant (a species of encrusting coralline algae found 1,253 feet below sea level), and eight probable new species of reef fishes.

The report also noted unusual observations like typically shallow reef sharks at depths down to 300 meters, concluding that their findings “highlight the uniqueness and high biodiversity value of the Pitcairn Islands as one of the least impacted in the Pacific, and suggest the need for immediate protection.”

Will this protected reserve really be protected? Absolutely, according to the National Geographic announcement:

The Bertarelli Foundation announced a five-year commitment to support the monitoring of the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve, using a technology known as the Virtual Watch Room. With this satellite monitoring system, government officials will be able to detect illegal fishing activity in real time. This is the first time any government has combined creation of a marine reserve with the most up-to-date technology for surveillance and enforcement of a protected area.

The Real Bounty findings explain, “Because of the nearly pristine and unique nature of most marine ecosystems of the Pitcairn Islands, its EEZ has a unique global value that is irreplaceable.”

EEZ refers to a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources.

The report illustrates:

There are only a handful of areas in the EEZs of the world that remain pristine, occupying probably less than 5% of the ocean. These places allow us to envision what the ocean was like before heavy human impacts, to understand what we have lost in other places because of human impacts, and most importantly, to set proper conservation and management goals for our oceans.

The Pitcairn Islands reserve is part of a growing international movement to safeguard ocean waters that has protected more than 2.5 million square miles to date. In April 2010, the British government created the Chagos Marine Reserve in the Indian Ocean  — which until the Pitcairn Islands announcement, was the largest continuous, fully protected area of ocean in the world. And in September 2014, U.S. President Barack Obama significantly expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, first created by President George W. Bush in the south-central Pacific.

The creation of the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve is certainly good news for the planet, but what makes the Pitcairn Islands development truly great news is the incorporation of technology for surveillance and enforcement of reserve rules to protect it from its true predators: human beings.

If you are as excited about this announcement as I am, consider sharing the good news with others.

106 comments

Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

Fantastic news so wonderful Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

Just so awesome Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W2 months ago

Greatest news of the week Thank you for caring and sharing

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Ellie M
Ellie M2 months ago

ty

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Ingrid H
Ingrid H2 months ago

Excellent. Thank you.

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Marija M
Marija M2 months ago

Glad to read that.

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Toni W
Toni W2 months ago

TYFS

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Toni W
Toni W2 months ago

TYFS

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Carole R
Carole R2 months ago

Very nice to hear.

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Carl R
Carl R2 months ago

Thanks!!!

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