The United Kingdom accounts for 0.16% of global land mass, but when it comes to water, it is definitely punching above its weight. It just announced the largest single marine protected area in the world, increasing the total number of fully protected marine areas in the world by a quarter. 30% of the waters in which the UK has jurisdiction are now protected.
This news arrives in the wake of a concerted push in February by celebrities, scientists and environmental leaders calling on the UK government to protect the waters around the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific, and the Ascension Island and South Sandwich Islands in the Atlantic. In mid March, the UK announced a protected area for the Pitcairn Islands.
These islands are probably best known as the landing place of the Bounty mutineers. The one inhabited island of the four has a population of about 50, descended from the mutineers and the Tahitians they brought with them to the island. The nearly pristine waters around these islands are home to over 1200 species of marine mammals, seabirds and fish. The protected area will be 834,334 square km, roughly 3 ½ times the size of the United Kingdom.
Mother Nature Network reported, “What’s particularly interesting, alongside the sheer size and scope of the proposed conservation areas (this would even beat the gigantic ocean conservation area created by the United States recently), is that the costs for patrolling a marine reserve have plummeted. Just as satellites have been used to track seals, follow sharks, and document deforestation, they can be a powerful and cost-effective tool to monitor fishing activity, identify would-be pirates and collect evidence of any violations.”
UK’s move “will protect the true bounty of the Pitcairn Islands — the array of unique marine life in the surrounding pristine seas,” said National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala, head of Society’s Pristine Seas project, in a recent press release. In the same press release, Matt Rand, director of Global Ocean Legacy, a project of Pew Charitable Trust and its partners that advocates for establishment of the world’s great marine parks, said, “With this designation, the United Kingdom raises the bar for protection of our ocean and sets a new standard for others to follow.”
As noted on parvati.org, “Our bodies are mostly made of water – as much as 50-78% depending on age and sex. Similarly, 71% of the Earth’s surface is water, 96.5% of which is ocean water. When the health of our oceans is at risk, every aspect of humanity is affected.
The water on our planet is under attack from a number of sources, such as pollution, exploitation and global warming. If we were to imagine the ocean as a physical body, it would be as though it were experiencing a virus, on top of a virus, on top of a bacterial infection.”
As such, the time has never been more appropriate to take steps to protect the planet’s oceans. We are heartened by the UK’s move, by the ongoing work to protect the Antarctic, by and by numerous lesser marine protected areas being enacted globally. Similarly, nations must come together to support a fully protected area for the highly vulnerable Arctic Ocean above the Arctic Circle. Now is the time.