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U.K. to Create the World’s Largest Continuous Marine Reserve

The immaculate waters around the storied Pitcairn Islands are to be protected from illegal fishing and mining efforts

Clear tropical waters at the Pitcairn Islands. (Darrell Gulin/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Situated in the vast expanse of ocean between Australia and South America, the Pitcairn Islands are among the most isolated in the world. The surrounding waters are pristine—vibrant, unsullied coral reefs host a wide array of fish and sharks, and deep-sea environments hide a multitude of marine species believed to be unknown to science.

The islands themselves are fascinating, too—only one of the four is inhabited, and most of its 60 inhabitants are descendants of he famous mutineers and companions of the British Royal Navy’s HMS Bounty, which sailed in 1789.

Now, the United Kingdom has announced plans to make 322,000 miles around the Pitcairn Islands a protected marine reserve to prohibit commercial activity that could damage the pristine marine environments. That’s more than twice the size of the land making up the British Isles.

The new reserve will be “the largest single marine protected area anywhere,” reports National Geographic, though “the network of reserves created around the Pacific remote islands by the U.S. in September is bigger in total, at nearly 490,000 square miles.”

The area’s waters have remained so pure and clean in large part because it hasn’t been the target of big fishing operations, writes the BBC. And conservationists want to keep it that way—to prevent the illegal fishing industry from taking advantage of the remoteness of the island region. As National Geographic points out, almost all of the sharks have been fished out of the neighboring islands of French Polynesia—a fate all hope to avoid in the Pitcairn Island group. And so, to further protect the reserve, the U.K. will employ satellite technology to track vessels in the area and analyze their movements. Project Eyes on the Sea, as the smart system is called, will also “provide support to other reserves,” the BBC reports.

Further protection could, in theory, help the island attract tourists to its unsullied habitats. Fair warning, though—it can take around five days to reach the islands—which is likely another piece of good news for the organisms that thrive in the largely untouched wilderness.

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