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UK to Create World's Largest Marine Reserve

Mar 19, 2015 02:37 PM EDT
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Pitcairn Islands
Pictured: Adamstown, the capital of the Pitcairn Islands.
(Photo : Flickr: Wesley Fryer)

The United Kingdom is planning to create the world's largest marine reserve in a remote part of the South Pacific, offering new, unprecedented protections to the more than 1,200 marine species that call this place home.

The 322,138-square-mile reserve will be based around the Pitcairn Islands, a British overseas territory, as part of a proposal by the Pew Charitable Trusts and National Geographic Society.

"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 of Pew and its partners, said in a press release. "The United Kingdom is the caretaker of more than 6 million square kilometers of ocean - the fifth-largest marine area of any country. Through this designation, British citizens are playing a vital role in ensuring the health of our seas."

At least 1,249 species of marine mammals, seabirds and fish live in these remote waters, and are threatened by illegal fishing and other criminal activities. But now, with these new protections, they can finally breathe a sigh of relief. The reserve also protects one of only two remaining raised coral atolls on the planet, as well as 40 Mile Reef, the deepest and most well developed coral reef on Earth.

What's more, the British government has realized that their plans will protect even ecosystems and species that, until recently, were unknown. This includes the world's deepest known living plant - a species of encrusting coralline algae found at a depth of 382 meters.

"Our scientific exploration of the area revealed entirely new species as well as an abundance of top predators like sharks," said National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala, head of Society's Pristine Seas project. "It was like traveling to a new world full of hidden and unknown treasures, a world that will now be preserved for generations to come."

To further ensure the survival of this unique marine life, for the next five years government officials with the Bertarelli Foundation have pledged to monitor waters surrounding the Pitcairn Islands for illegal fishing. Using a satellite monitoring system, they will be able to detect such activity in real time.

This is the first time that a reserve will not only be this closely monitored, but have its designated protections actively enforced.

Officials have been growing increasingly concerned in recent years in protecting the oceans from things like overfishing, pollution and unchecked development. Back in September, President Barack Obama used his executive powers to create the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument. And while this is the largest marine reserve - 490,000 square miles - it is made up of scattered islands, atolls and reefs. That would make Pitcairn the largest continuous protected area of ocean around the world.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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