New Tristan da Cunha Marine Protections Cover Area Nearly 3 Times Larger Than UK Mainland

Island Council and British government work to preserve unique biodiversity surrounding world’s most remote inhabited archipelago

The world’s largest population of northern rockhopper penguins lives on Tristan da Cunha.
Sue Scott/The Pew Charitable Trusts

LONDON—The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project welcomes the commitment by the Tristan da Cunha Island Council on Nov. 13 to designate most of the archipelago’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as a marine protection zone. The move will fully safeguard an area that spans more than 687,000 square kilometres (265,000 square miles), about 91% of the waters of the remote South Atlantic Ocean island chain, and create the fourth-largest fully protected marine reserve on the planet.

This declaration by the United Kingdom Overseas Territory, combined with similar safeguards for the waters surrounding Ascension Island, the Pitcairn Islands, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, will ensure that almost 3 million square kilometres (more than 1.1 million square miles) of British waters are fully protected, amounting to about 42% of the U.K.’s entire marine zone. Final action on the necessary legislation is expected in 2021.

With the new protected zone, which is nearly three times larger than the U.K. mainland, Tristan da Cunha will prohibit industrial extraction activities throughout most of the EEZ to safeguard a diverse ecosystem. These waters serve as a feeding ground for the critically endangered Tristan albatross and endangered Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, as well as the vulnerable spectacled petrel. Eighty-five percent of the world’s endangered northern rockhopper penguins breed on Tristan, whose nutrient-rich waters support 11 different species of cetaceans, including Shepherd’s beaked whales and fin whales—the second-largest whale on the planet. Gough Island, southernmost in the chain, supports 80% of the world’s population of sub-Antarctic fur seals, as well as a colony of elephant seals.

To help the community actively manage these newly protected waters, the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project 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.

Tristan da Cunha’s Chief Islander James Glass said, “I’m absolutely delighted to announce our marine protection zone. It’s an important step for our community, because we are a people who have always lived in harmony with the sea. In Tristan waters, you’ll find a breeding ground for blue sharks, migration routes for tuna, precious cold-water corals, and the Tristan rock lobster that is the mainstay of our economy. This is a precious place, and we want it to stay that way. I am also extremely proud that we can think of ourselves as being the guardians of the South Atlantic.”

Dona Bertarelli, co-chair of the Bertarelli Foundation and special adviser for the blue economy to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, said, “This ambitious decision by the Tristan da Cunha Island Council to protect the archipelago’s waters is a great example of local leadership that has a global impact. Today’s announcement enhances the resilience of the Tristan da Cunha community, whilst making a significant contribution towards the science-based global target to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030. The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project looks forward to partnering with the Tristan Island Council to support the long-term implementation of the new protections for years to come.”

Johnny Briggs, senior officer with the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, said, “This decision represents the will of Tristan’s community to strongly safeguard their fragile ecosystems and unique marine biodiversity. The Great British Oceans coalition—of which The Pew Trusts is a member—has fully supported the efforts to protect this vast area of ocean. Importantly, the plan recognizes the community’s economic reliance on a small-scale sustainable lobster fishery.”

The isolated territory of Tristan da Cunha is roughly equidistant from South Africa, South America, and Antarctica. The group consists of four main islands: Tristan, Gough, Inaccessible, and Nightingale. Tristan, the world’s most remote archipelago settlement, is home to 260 residents, while Gough and Inaccessible are recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project

The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Bertarelli Foundation joined forces in 2017 to create the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, with the shared goal of establishing the first generation of ecologically significant and effective marine protected areas around the world. This effort builds on a decade of work by both organizations to protect the ocean. Between them, they have helped to obtain designations to safeguard over 8 million square kilometers (3 million square miles) of ocean by working with philanthropic partners, Indigenous groups, community leaders, government officials, and scientists. Since 2010, the Bertarelli Foundation has sought to protect the ocean for future generations through marine conservation and collaborative marine science research.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. Learn more at

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Issue Brief

The Most Remote Islands in the Atlantic Ocean Need Protection

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Issue Brief

In the remote waters of the South Atlantic Ocean lies the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, some 2,400 kilometres west of South Africa. A chain of four islands, Tristan da Cunha covers a small land area but it has an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) close to three times the size of the United Kingdom: 754,000 square kilometres.

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