Small Pacific community of the Pitcairn Islands publishes ambitious five-year management plan for its vast Marine Protected Area


The government of the Pitcairn Islands has released an ambitious five-year Marine Protected Area (MPA) management plan to protect more than 841,910 km² of ocean in one of the most remote places on the planet.

This plan will further protect the intact coral reefs of the Pitcairn Islands and protect endangered species such as the humpback whale, green turtles and seabirds such as the Henderson’s petrel.

It builds on the work already done by the government since the designation of Pitcairn’s highly protected MPA in 2016, one of the largest in the world. These include developing a code of conduct for whale watching and training local operators to ensure that whale watching tours can be organized without disturbing the animals. The management plan goes even further in this type of initiative while supporting the economic aspirations of the territory.

The near pristine nature of the Pitcairn Islands’ marine ecosystems means that its MPA has unique and irreplaceable global value. Additionally, Henderson Island, a World Heritage Site, is one of the best remaining examples of a raised coral atoll ecosystem.

The extreme clarity of the water means coral can grow to deeper depths than expected for most reefs in the Pacific and potentially, coral reefs on Ducie Island may also be more resilient to climate change. More than 1,250 marine species have been recorded, including three species of whales on the Red List of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The region is also home to hawksbill turtles and green turtles (critically endangered and endangered respectively); as well as three endangered species of seabirds; one critically endangered fish and one endangered fish. There are also five endemic bony fish species that are not found anywhere else on Earth.

The UK Government’s Blue Belt Program, Pew Trusts, RSPB and other key partners have supported the Pitcairn Islands Government in developing their management plan to ensure day-to-day management and protection measures are applied throughout AMP.

The management plan is essential to the success of the MPA and to the protection of the marine environment by ensuring that all supporting legal, institutional and policy frameworks are in place, that the objectives of the MPA are clearly defined and that all necessary resources – both finances and people are secure. The plan was developed by the people of Pitcairn Island, who participated in a public consultation in 2018.

Lord Goldsmith, UK Environment Minister, commented

The Pitcairn Islands are a good demonstration of a real ambition in terms of marine protection. This tiny population is already working to save its vast MPA. But with the publication and implementation of its management plan, it establishes a statement of intent to ensure the health of its ecosystem and the potential of its unique coral reefs to further inform our understanding of climate change. This is a very positive step, especially when all eyes are on COP26, and there is an urgent need to share and increase our knowledge on how climate change is affecting the health of our oceans.

I would like to congratulate the islanders, who have followed both Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha in releasing their MPA management plans, showing the fantastic progress made under the Blue Belt program, with support from key organizations such as the Pew Trust and the RSPB.

Key aspects of MPA include:

  • All harmful activities, such as fishing, mining and dumping of litter, which can threaten vulnerable marine ecosystems and threatened species are prohibited within 99.5% (832,738 square kilometers) of the MPA .
  • The non-harvest MPA has closed areas previously exposed to fishing and other extractive activities, ensuring a positive impact for these environments.
  • The remaining part of the MPA (the territorial seas around Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno Islands, an area known as Adams Seamount and a staging area between Pitcairn Island and Seamount Adams) only allows sustainably managed activities, such as fishing by residents.
  • The new Marine Conservation Regulations define how activities in territorial seas will be managed to ensure that they do not damage the important habitats and species found there. The management plan also identifies and defines strategies to minimize the challenges facing the marine environment of the Pitcairn Islands due to a possible increased threat of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing; pollution (oil and plastic spills); damage to the anchor; land erosion and runoff; invasive alien species and climate change these threats.

Alasdair Hamilton, Deputy Governor of the Pitcairn Islands, said:

This management plan will be an important master plan to help us protect and monitor Pitcairn’s unique and precious marine environment, which is home to pristine coral reefs and species not seen anywhere else on earth. These areas of rich marine biodiversity are mostly untouched by humans, which means that ecosystem health is an important way for us to assess not only the impacts of climate change, but also the benefits of having more. marine protected areas around the world.

I am delighted that the small but capable community of Pitcairn Island can undertake such important work to implement this plan and demonstrate how the Pitcairn MPA is an exemplary model of global action to protect our oceans.

Pitcairn has a proud cultural heritage and wants the entire local community to benefit from the MPA through the potential of a new marine ecotourism.

Michele Christian – Division Chief, Pitcairn Islands Government, commented:

The Blue Belt program continues to be extremely important work for the Pitcairn Islands. This year, we are excited to implement our new MPA Management Plan, which will provide clear guidance on how to effectively manage and protect our precious marine environment.

This is a very exciting time for Pitcairn, as along with the publication of its management plan, several residents of Pitcairn Island have participated in a scientific expedition, collecting data on the health of its MPA. The scientific inquiry has been an incredible opportunity for local engagement, the experience of seeing first-hand the wonders of nature both on land and at sea. We now share a better understanding of the importance of protecting strong and vulnerable species by ensuring that we have strong management and monitoring systems for the future. Thank you, Blue Belt, for giving us – the community of Pitcairn – the opportunity and lasting memories of the special place we live in – what a privilege. Hopefully the results will be released in the fall.

Read the full management plan for the Pitcairn MPA

About the Blue Belt program:

The Blue Belt program is a UK government initiative to improve marine protection over more than 4 million square kilometers of marine environment in the UK Overseas Territories.

The overseas territories that are part of the Blue Belt program which protect their waters with the support of this initiative, include Ascension Island, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, the Pitcairn Islands, Saint Helena and Tristan da Cunha – covering an area 17 times the size of the United Kingdom and more than one percent of the entire ocean of Earth.

This flagship program has been at the heart of the UK government’s ambition to take action to tackle the serious global issues of illegal fishing, species extinction and climate change. The program underpinned the UK’s 25-year environmental plan and supported the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Most recently, he supported the UK’s commitment to ensure that 30% of the world’s oceans are protected by 2030.

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