Wednesday, 11 February 2015


A coalition of leading conservation organisations are urging the British Government to protect over 1.8 million sq km of the world’s ocean by creating marine reserves in three of the UK’s overseas territories. 

Photo credit: Dan Laffoley
The creation of marine reserves around the Pitcairn Islands, Ascension Island and the South Sandwich Islands would create three of the largest marine reserves in the world and provide support for rare and threatened species living on these islands, from whales and turtles to rare seabirds, penguins and corals. 
By working in partnership with the UK Overseas Territories (UKOT) and their local communities to establish these marine reserves, the UK Government has the opportunity take global leadership in marine conservation, increasing the amount of the world’s ocean under full protection by 50%.

Photo credit: Dan Laffoley
The UK is responsible for the fifth largest area of ocean in the world, measuring 6.8 million square kilometres, over twice the size of India, and nearly 30 times the size of the UK itself. These waters are amongst the most diverse marine portfolio on earth, with the Overseas Territories housing 94% of the UK’s unique biodiversity. If left unprotected, these fragile ecosystems face huge threats from overfishing, illegal pirate fishing, pollution and climate change.  

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Greenpeace UK, IUCN, the Zoological Society of London, the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Marine Conservation Society, National Geographic Society and Mission Blue are among the 106 signatories to have signed a statement of support for the creation of these large-scale marine reserves. 
They are calling on the British government to protect over 1.75 million km2 of the world’s oceans by creating large‐scale and fully‐protected marine reserves in three of the UKOTs – the Pitcairn Islands, Ascension Island, and South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands.

Photo credit: Dan Laffoley

Pitcairn Islands (834,000km2)
With unanimous support from the local community and Pitcairn Island Council, a marine reserve in Pitcairn would offer protection to some of the most pristine waters and coral reefs on earth, providing international recognition and connecting this Territory to global marine science and tourism.

Ascension Island (443,000km2)
A green turtle mecca and one of the last remaining hotspots for Atlantic megafauna such as tuna, marlin and shark. Ascension’s waters offer a rare opportunity for large‐scale marine protection in the tropical Atlantic.
Photo credit: Dan Laffoley

South Sandwich Islands (530,000 km2)
Uninhabited by humans, the volcanic South Sandwich Islands host huge concentrations of wildlife, including vast penguin colonies and significant whale populations.

The UK Government could fully protect these areas from all extractive and damaging activity by  providing a globally significant contribution to ocean conservation and  leaving a historic legacy for people and wildlife at very little cost. 

Photo credit: Dan Laffoley
In fact, enforcing and monitoring these marine reserves would be cost-effective. Pioneering satellite technology designed and developed in the UK by the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Satellite Applications Catapult, and the UK Government, would allow analysts to identify and monitor illegal fishing practices in marine reserves, as well as alert them to vessels acting suspiciously. 
The Pew Charitable Trusts has committed to support the monitoring of the Pitcairn marine reserve for the initial five years. 

Dr Sylvia Earle, whose Mission Blue foundation has identified Ascension and Pitcairn as two of the world’s 50 Hope Spots, places worthy and able to make a difference to global marine conservation, said: “We have a long way to go to reach our global pledge of protecting 10% of the world’s ocean by 2010 so action needs to be taken now to protect these precious ecosystems. By protecting its overseas territories, the UK has the potential to create the largest marine reserve in the world and make a significant contribution to this global target.” 

Photo credit: Dan Laffoley
Increasing pressure is mounting on the British government to meet the globally agreed target of protecting 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020. In September last year, U.S President Barack Obama significantly expanded the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, a group of five highly protected reserves located thousands of miles southwest of the Hawaiian Islands. By designating Ascension, Pitcairn, and the South Sandwich Islands as reserves, the coalition believes the UK has a unique chance to surpass this commitment and take its place as the world leader in marine protection.