The United Kingdom announced the creation of the world’s largest contiguous marine reserve on Wednesday in the South Pacific. The reserve, which was declared through the budget presented to parliament, would cover 322,000 square miles around the Pitcairn Islands, a British overseas territory that is home to about 50 people and at least 1,249 species of fish, birds, and marine mammals.
"The government intends to proceed with designation of a marine protected area around Pitcairn," according to the budget statement.
The Pew Charitable Trusts and the National Geographic Society, which filed the application for the creation of the reserve, along with local groups, praised the move. “With this designation, the United Kingdom raises the bar for protection of our ocean and sets a new standard for others to follow,” Matt Rand, director of Global Ocean Legacy, a project affiliated with Pew Charitable Trusts, said in a statement. “Through this designation, British citizens are playing a vital role in ensuring the health of our seas. The Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve will build a refuge of untouched ocean to protect and conserve a wealth of marine life.”
The reserve was created to protect local ocean life from illegal fishing activities, mandating the creation of a satellite network to monitor vessels, determine whether they are fishing in the area, and the kind of fish they are looking for. The data from the program, known as Project Eyes on the Seas, would then be handed to governments around the world to help them combat the threat.
“This system will enable authorities to share information on those vessels operating outside of the law, build a comprehensive case against them, track them into port or within reach of enforcement vessels, and take action against them,” Joshua Reichert, executive vice president of the Pew Charitable Trusts, said in a statement.
An estimated one in five fish are landed illegally outside of national or international regulations, fetching over $20 billion on the world’s markets, according to Catapult Satellite Applications, which partnered with Pew Charitable Trusts to design the satellite monitoring program.
The U.K. also managed the previous largest contiguous marine reserve in the world around the Chagos Islands in the Indian Ocean.