In September 2016, the United Kingdom formally established a fully protected marine reserve in the remote waters surrounding the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific Ocean; British officials first announced the move in March 2015. The Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve spans about 830,000 square kilometers (320,465 square miles).
Encompassing 99 percent of Pitcairn’s exclusive economic zone, the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve is about 3.5 times the size of the land area of the United Kingdom. Within the reserve, all forms of commercial extractive activity, such as fishing and oil, gas, and mineral mining, are prohibited, but traditional subsistence fishing by Pitcairn islanders is allowed. The reserve starts 12 nautical miles from Pitcairn Island and extends to the full 200-nautical-mile limit of the islands’ sovereign waters.
The British overseas territory is composed of four islands: Pitcairn, Henderson, Oeno, and Ducie. Only Pitcairn is inhabited. Most of its approximately 50 residents are descendants of the mutineers who seized control of the British Royal Navy vessel HMS Bounty in the late 18th century and eventually landed on Pitcairn.
The island hosts one of the most intact marine ecosystems on the planet with some 1,249 identified species, including the world’s deepest known living plant, a species of encrusting coralline algae found 382 meters (1,253 feet) below the sea surface. The territory has some of the clearest ocean waters anywhere, which allow corals to grow at depths greater than expected in Pacific reefs.
Within these waters lie a complex community of hard and soft corals that are home to hundreds of species of fish, including two found nowhere else on Earth: the squirrelfish and the many-spined butterflyfish.
In 2013, The Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Geographic Society joined the local government, the Pitcairn Island Council, in submitting a proposal calling for creation of a marine reserve to protect these spectacular waters.