Members of Parliament in the United Kingdom expressed support on May 8 for creation of the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve in the Pitcairn Islands in a debate on the floor of historic Westminster Hall in London.
They were discussing a House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report titled “Sustainability in the United Kingdom Overseas Territories.”
Published in January, the select committee report criticized the government for failing to adequately protect the globally significant biodiversity of the nation’s overseas territories, despite international treaty commitments to safeguard those important habitats. The study represented close to a year of research.
Residents of Pitcairn, assisted by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Global Ocean Legacy project and the National Geographic Society, have been working to build support for the creation of a large-scale marine reserve in the South Pacific waters surrounding Pitcairn and the three other islands—Henderson, Oeno, and Ducie—that make up the U.K. Overseas Territory.
The parliamentary committee recommended that the government’s Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs, or DEFRA, and its Foreign and Commonwealth Office, “respond positively to the Pitcairn Islanders' request to establish a fully protected MPA [marine reserve] in line with U.N. Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 to protect 10 percent of the world's oceans by 2020.”
The government released a response in late March, saying that a marine reserve was under consideration.
Joan Walley, the Member of Parliament who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee, said the May 8 debate was intended “to take the government to task for their responses to our recommendations.”
That day, many members of Parliament spoke in favour of declaring a marine reserve in the Pitcairn Islands.
Zac Goldsmith MP stated that the islands are “remote and neither polluted nor overfished. Their fish populations, including [those] of top predators such as sharks, are healthy, and they have some of the best coral reefs in the world. They have intact deep-sea habitats and many species new to science.”
Goldsmith said that this was a “golden opportunity” and that government leaders should stop “dragging their feet.”
“A marine sanctuary there would be celebrated globally as one of the most significant conservation measures ever taken by any government,” he said.
Matthew Offord MP said the government can and should go further, establishing marine reserves in other overseas territories. “The U.K. could make a significant contribution to achieving Aichi Biodiversity Target 11 by declaring new marine protected areas around the Pitcairn Islands, Tristan da Cunha, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands,” he said.
Mark Lazarowicz MP and Alan Whitehead MP both said that establishing a marine reserve around Pitcairn was important and should not be delayed.
Kerry McCarthy MP spoke of meeting with two Pitcairn Islanders when they were in London last year on behalf of their community.
“I had the pleasure of meeting two of the islanders—Simon Young and Melva Warren Evans—when they were over in Parliament a while ago,’’ McCarthy said. “We were shown an absolutely fantastic film demonstrating just how pristine and unexplored much of the marine environment is around the islands.”
The video depicted a National Geographic expedition to Pitcairn and showed many of the unique species found in its waters.
McCarthy called on the minister representing DEFRA to say whether a decision about declaring a reserve would be made before the next national election in May 2015.
The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report, including the Pitcairn marine reserve recommendation, can be found here.
The full transcript of the debate on May 8, 2014, in Westminster Hall can be found here.
A short video about Pitcairn can be viewed below.