Pitcairn Islands: UK opens world’s most remote marine science base
Scientists from around the globe will be able to explore some of the world’s most untouched marine habitats and potentially discover new life underwater thanks to the creation of a new marine science base on the remote Pitcairn Islands.
This remote volcanic outcrop and its three neighbouring islands in the South Pacific are a UK Overseas Territory and the third largest continuous ‘Highly Protected’ Marine Protected Area in the world – with some of the planet’s most pristine coral reefs and an abundance of sea life not seen anywhere else on earth.
The base will provide visiting scientists with a range of equipment – from remote operated vehicles to cutting-edge underwater video technology – to allow them to monitor the health of marine habitats that are mostly untouched by humans.
Iona Thomas, Governor to Pitcairn and British High Commissioner to New Zealand, said:
The ocean around the Pitcairn Islands is one of the most pristine places on earth and home to a treasure trove of sharks, fish, corals and other marine life not seen anywhere else in the world.
I’m delighted to be able to open the new marine science base here in Pitcairn with the support of the local community.
I hope this base will attract a continuous cycle of scientists to the islands and provide a huge boost to our knowledge of marine science in what is one of the last remaining untouched marine habitats on the planet.
David Rutley, Ministers for the Americas and with responsibility for Overseas territories at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, said:
Studying our oceans is crucial to understanding the impact of climate change, land-based pollution and habitat degradation, and the opening of our new marine science base will ensure that we are better equipped to protect our ocean waters against such threats.
The UK has always placed great importance on conducting scientific research to safeguard our valuable marine protected areas and I encourage scientists from all over the world to visit and utilise this tremendous base.
The Pitcairn Islands MPA was created in 2016 and is now the third largest continuous ‘Highly Protected’ MPA in the world.
As a ‘Highly Protected’ MPA with fully intact marine ecosystems, no commercial fishing is allowed across the 842,000 square kilometres of waters around Pitcairn’s four islands. This makes Pitcairn an important reference point to help scientists study marine biodiversity and assess the impacts of climate change – and in turn measure the benefits of marine protected areas.
The pristine coral habitats of the Pitcairn Islands’ will be a barometer on ocean climate change, particularly as oceans get warmer and more acidic, which is happening in more northerly equatorial waters. The corals grow in deeper, clearer, and cooler waters compared to most other tropical coral reefs and because of their isolation they harbour species found nowhere else in the world.
Specialists from the Blue Belt Programme, the UK government’s flagship marine conservation programme that works with the UK Overseas Territories, provided advice and assistance for the set-up and is funding the University of St Andrews to work with residents to undertake the management and governance of the laboratory.
Joseph Peters, Integrated Marine Manager, Blue Belt Programme, said:
We are honoured to work with the government of Pitcairn through the Blue Belt Programme to help secure the long-term protection of their marine environment. This new marine science base is a fantastic facility that will provide visiting scientists and the local community with the space and equipment they need to generate evidence that will support the sustainable management of Pitcairn’s Marine Protected Area.
Over 1,250 marine species have been recorded in the waters around Pitcairn, including 3 species of whales that are listed as endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List.
The area is also home to hawksbill and green turtles (critically endangered and endangered, respectively); as well as 3 species of endangered seabirds; one critically endangered fish and one endangered fish. There are also 5 species of endemic bony fishes found nowhere else on Earth.
One of Pitcairn’s outer islands, Ducie, plays an important role as a shark nursery and there are growing numbers of Humpback whales coming into Pitcairn’s waters every year to calve.
Pitcairn is home to only around 40 inhabitants and the marine science base has been built locally by these residents. It will be locally-managed with the support of the UK government and UK academia.
Pitcairn’s MPA was awarded a Platinum Status ‘Blue Park Award’ by the Marine Conservation Institute in February in recognition of its exceptional marine wildlife conservation.
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Image: Door NOAA – http://www.photolib.noaa.gov/htmls/geod0703.htm, Publiek domein, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1761671
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