The waters of the Tristan da Cunha archipelago cover a vast area in the South Atlantic Ocean nearly three times the size of the United Kingdom’s mainland, with an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of 758,771 square kilometres (292,263 square miles).

In November 2020, the government and people of Tristan da Cunha—with the support of an international partnership including the UK—announced their intention to designate a 687,000 km2 (265,000 mi2) marine protection zone. The zone will cover over 90% of the entire EEZ, creating the largest fully protected marine reserve in the Atlantic Ocean, and the fourth-largest fully protected marine reserve on the planet.

Four islands make up the chain: Nightingale, Tristan, Gough, and Inaccessible, with the latter two collectively recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The marine ecosystem surrounding the islands remains healthy and vitally important for albatrosses, penguins, and seals. The remote location of this United Kingdom Overseas Territory—midway between Argentina and South Africa—means that many of these species are found nowhere else on Earth.

Ecological significance

Tristan da Cunha serves as the breeding ground for 85 percent of the world’s endangered northern rockhopper penguins. The species, known locally as “Pinnamin,” lives alongside subantarctic fur seals and a single breeding colony of southern elephant seals. Seal populations are slowly recovering from the unsustainable hunting practices of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.

Two endangered birds—the sooty albatross (“Peeeoo”) and the Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross (“Molly”)—breed only in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species, critically endangered Tristan (“Gony”) albatrosses breed almost exclusively on Gough, as do endangered Atlantic petrels. Spectacled petrels, with a recorded wingspan of up to 118 centimetres (47 inches), are also considered vulnerable and reproduce only on Inaccessible. The island also provides a home for an endemic species of land bird, the Inaccessible rail, which is the smallest flightless bird in the world and considered vulnerable.

Within the U.K., The Pew Trusts operates as part of the Great British Oceans (GBO) coalition, a group of nongovernmental organisations that advocate for large, highly protected marine protected areas in the nation’s Overseas Territories. As part of GBO, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project supported the Government of Tristan da Cunha’s commitment to adopt a marine protection strategy by 2020, as well as the designation of over 90% of the EEZ as a highly protected marine protection zone.

To help the Tristan da Cunha community actively manage their newly protected waters, Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy is committed to supporting long-term implementation projects. These initiatives include developing a partnership with Global Fishing Watch to support the planning and management of effective marine protections by harnessing near real-time, open-source and interactive data to evaluate ocean conditions, marine biology, and human activity such as fishing.

The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project

The Pew Charitable Trusts and Dona Bertarelli created the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, with the shared goal of establishing the first generation of ecologically significant, large, and effective marine protected areas (MPAs) around the world. Today, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project also seeks to connect MPAs and help conserve key migratory species and entire marine ecosystems. These efforts build on more than a decade of work by Pew and the Bertarelli Foundation, led by Dona Bertarelli, to create large-scale, highly or fully protected MPAs. Between them, they have helped to obtain designations or commitments to safeguard nearly 12.6 million square kilometers (4.8 million square miles) of ocean by working with communities, local leaders, philanthropic partners, Indigenous groups, government officials, and scientists. Dona Bertarelli is a philanthropist, investor, sportswoman, and strong advocate for ocean conservation. The Pew Charitable Trusts is driven by the power of knowledge to solve today’s most challenging problems, including the need for effective marine conservation.