Pristine Seas

Pitcairn Expedition

Picture of diver in Pitcairn Islands

Photograph by Manu San Felix

The National Geographic Society in 2012 undertook an expedition, in cooperation with the Pew Charitable Trusts, to determine the health of the marine environment surrounding the four Pitcairn Islands. The islands are home to descendants of the famous mutineers of the H.M.S. Bounty. We found an exquisite and highly functional ecosystem surrounding two of the more remote islands, filled with large predators and the southernmost functional coral reef ecosystem in the Pacific. We published our peer-reviewed study of these pristine areas in the scientific journal PLOS One in June 2014. (Read: The Real Bounty: Marine Biodiversity in the Pitcairn Islands)

The Pristine Seas team then worked with the leaders of the local community to draft a proposal to create a no-take marine reserve in the entire Exclusive Economic Zone of the islands. The community then took a vote and it was unanimous in favor of creating the reserve. On March 18, 2015, the U.K. government established the world’s largest single fully protected no-take marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands, protecting 322,138 square miles of some of the most virgin ocean habitat on the planet.

The protected area is home to one of the world’s two remaining raised coral atolls, as well as 40 Mile Reef, the deepest and most well-developed coral reef known to man. Due to their remoteness and low human population, the Pitcairn Islands contains wildlife in an almost pristine state, including intact deep-sea habitats with many species new to science.

Enric Sala discusses one of the most pristine places on Earth—the Pitcairn Islands.

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