Massive marine reserve announced in Budget

Issue date: 18 March 2015

Photo of Tom Appleby

In today's budget speech [18 March 2015] the coalition government announced its intention to designate the world's largest marine reserve around Pitcairn Islands. This puts the UK close to presiding over the largest amount of fully protected waters on Earth. America is currently ahead by a few thousand square kilometres after the creation of the extended Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument reserve by President Obama last summer. The UK will now have 1.49m square kilometres of fully protected reserves, compared with the US on 1.57m sq kilometres post this Pitcairn announcement.

Some 94% of the UK's biodiversity exists in its Overseas Territories and the waters around Pitcairn are regarded as globally significant. Over 1,200 marine species have been recorded around there, including whales and dolphins, 365 species of fish, turtles, seabirds and corals. Forty-eight of these species are globally threatened – such as the critically endangered hawksbill turtle, and some are found nowhere else on Earth – such as the Pitcairn angelfish.

The Blue Marine Foundation and a coalition of leading NGOs have been calling for the designation of further marine reserves for a number of years, and they were understandably pleased with the result, as Sunday Times columnist Charles Clover, the chairman of BLUE, said, “Declaring a marine reserve around Pitcairn is a visionary thing to do and the right thing to do. With Pitcairn, Britain is now perilously close to having the largest amount of protected ocean of any country in the world. At the moment, the Americans still just beat us. Let's see if the manifestos bring an improvement on that. Arguably this has not been the greenest government ever, but it still could be the bluest government ever.”

Tom Appleby, a senior lecturer in law at UWE Bristol and one of the trustees of the BLUE said, “It surprises many people quite how much water the UK controls. Because of its overseas territories the UK has the fifth largest exclusive economic zone in the world, so the UK still retains a global lead in this area. In the past patrolling these remote areas was almost impossible but developments in remote sensing and marine enforcement by organisations like the Pew Foundation mean that these reserves are not just empty gestures. It is exciting to be able to support these inspirational and world leading activities.”

The campaign by these leading marine organisations received widespread attention recently when the actress Helena Bonham-Carter posed for cameras dressed only in a tuna fish. Ms Bonham-Carter said of the announcement, “It's very proud-making that the government has just declared the largest marine reserve in the world. The waters around Pitcairn are teeming with turtles, whales, sharks and tuna, like the one I was cuddling in the Fishlove pictures. Thanks to this move by the government, these threatened species can regenerate and we won't have to explain to our great grandchildren what a tuna is. I never knew taking my clothes off could be so effective. I must do it more often.”

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