Pitcairn Island will soon be part of the world’s largest protected marine reserve. The United Kingdom has decided to set aside 322,000 square miles of the Pacific Ocean, which will be protected from fishing or oil and gas exploration.
The preserve includes a small region around Pitcairn itself which allows for sustainable fishing, but otherwise extends for about 200 nautical miles in most directions. Three other islands, Oeno, Henderson, and Ducie, fall within the zone, as do three underwater volcanos.
The reserve is home to amazing diversity of sea life, from sea mammals to sharks, and includes an above average amount of coral reefs. Over 1,200 species call the region home, including four species of endangered whales and two kinds of endangered turtles. It is also home to a coral atoll called 40 Mile Reef, one of the deepest and most developed reefs in the world. In addition, there is a unique kind of encrusting coral which can grow up to 1,200 feet below the surface, making it the deepest growing plant life yet discovered.
Pitcairn Island was discovered and settled by a group of nine British sailors who mutinied upon the HMS Bounty. They set their captain and officers in a boat, then sailed off. They discovered the island around 1789 and settled there with 17 Tahitian men and women and one infant. The British had no idea where they were until an American ship discovered them in 1808.
Pitcairn, which is about 3,000 miles northeast of New Zealand, is largely unspoiled, with huge stretches that have never been explored. It is currently home to 56 people, all of whom are descended from those original inhabitants.
The second largest marine reserve in the world, the Chagos Marine Reserve, is also maintained by the United Kingdom and is located in the Indian Ocean. It has an area of 247,000 square miles.