THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT has confirmed that it is to designate seas around the Pacific’s Pitcairn Islands as the world’s largest continuous marine reserve at 322,000 square miles – more than three times the size of the UK.

The move comes after the GB Oceans Coalition campaign by more than 100 conservation organisations and high-profile personalities for the Government to establish marine protected areas (MPAs) around the Pitcairns and the Atlantic’s Ascension Island and the South Sandwich Islands (News, April).

It was hoped that at least one designation would be achieved before the General Election. So it proved, the announcement of the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve having been made in Chancellor George Osborne’s pre-election Budget.

Fishing is being banned in the reserve to encourage the rejuvenation of varied marine species. And effective policing is now possible with the advent of observation by satellite technology. A system called Project Eyes on the Seas has been set up at Satellite Applications Catapult in Harwell, Oxfordshire, with support from the US-based Pew Charitable Trusts.

It will be able to track fishing-boats, analyse their movements and home in for identifications to be made where action is thought necessary. Project Eyes on the Seas is geared initially for the Pitcairns but could be used in other reserves.
Key players in the Pitcairns designation process have been Pew and the National Geographic Society, both of which joined the Pitcairn Island Council in 2013 to prepare and submit the marine-reserve proposal. Thanking members of Parliament for “pressing this action”, Jo Royle, Pew’s Global Ocean Legacy manager in the UK, said: “With this designation, the United Kingdom raises the bar for protection of our ocean and sets a new standard for others to follow. “

The UK is the caretaker of more than six million square kilometres of ocean — the fifth-largest marine area of any country.” Enric Sala, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and head of the society’s Pristine Seas project, said: “Today’s action by British Prime Minister David Cameron will protect the true bounty of the Pitcairn Islands — the array of unique marine life in the surrounding pristine seas. “Our scientific exploration of the area revealed entirely new species as well as an abundance of top predators
like sharks.

It was like travelling to a new world full of hidden and unknown treasures, a world that will now be preserved for generations to come.” Before the Pitcairns designation, the UK still had the world’s biggest continuous marine reserve in the form of the Chagos archipelago, part of the British Indian Ocean Territory, with an MPA of 247,000sq miles.

The US Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument covers 463,000sq miles but has breaks in its coverage. As well as Ascension and South Sandwich, other areas mooted for protections include Chile’s Easter Island and Palau. “The issue is rising up the political agenda,” said Royle.
✹ Diving industry stakeholders in 34 countries have called for “governments and international treaties to address threats to the world’s oceans” in an open letter released in Palau, where the intention to establish marine protection measures was announced recently.

The letter highlighted the diving industry’s “alarm” at the “degree of ocean degradation”. It called for treaties to end “overfishing and the rampant killing of endangered marine life”; the creation of further no-take Marine Protected Areas with “30% of all oceans fully protected”; and finalisation of a “binding agreement on climate change in the next few months, capable of halting global warming and ocean acidification” which threaten the world’s coral reefs and eco-systems.

By Tony probst