On Wednesday evening I was in the Royal Society building in Carlton House Terrace (allegedly where Hitler would have lived if his plan to invade the UK had been more successful) waving at a bunch of kids on Pitcairn Island. Really, I was. Not alone of course, but in a room full of people.
Through what we will call, cliche-like, the wonders of modern technology, we, be-suited and be-frocked (I had a suit – but there were frocks), had gathered to watch an amazing film about the underwater life surrounding the UK Overseas Territory of Pitcairn Islands but were able to talk and wave, to the inhabitants of one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world.
Pitcairn Island has 59 inhabitants and they seemed all to be in view as we sat in St James in a William IV building where, upstairs there is a lock of hair from Sir Isaac Newton (arguably, the world’s ‘Number One Scientist Ever’). It takes 5 days to get to Pitcairn from the UK (if everything goes fine) and yet we were there immediately. The point of this easy journey, whilst seated in a suit, was to hear the inhabitants of Pitcairn enthuse about the idea of a large marine no-take zone around Pitcairn, Henderson, Ducio and Oeano islands. They’ve decided that they don’t want the pristine richness of these waters to be destroyed by careless and insensitive commercial fishing (or plundering).
And after we had seen the film, made by National Geographic and the Pew Global Ocean Legacy programme, there would be few in the audience who weren’t of the same view. Surely, I thought, there ought to be some ocean areas left to act as a baseline – to show how wonderful the oceans can be, so full of life, so rich in marine creatures. Should we exploit them all, carelessly, just because we ‘can’? The answer must be ‘No!’.
Have a look at the film for yourself and see what you think.
There are few places on this planet that can be described as pristine – in truth, perhaps none. But some of the waters in this outpost of the UK influence, where the mutineers from the Bounty hid from retribution, are as close as anything to pristine. They are, at the very least, a wonderful example of how the oceans would have been much more commonly a couple of hundred years ago before the major pillaging began.
The man from the Ministry, in this case from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, didn’t quite seem to have caught the mood to me. It was good that the UK is committed to ‘sustainable management’ but only so long as that includes no management in terms of large-scale fisheries as far as I am concerned. The proposal on the table from conservationists and the whole Pitcairn Island population is for a no-take marine zone but the man from the Ministry described this as an ‘interesting proposal’ and kept mentioning the ‘marine resources’ and ‘assets’ and that we should ‘manage resources sustainably’ and that there were ‘big practical issues’.
On the other hand, ‘at the very highest level, in the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, you have enthusiastic advocates for what you have just seen here’ said the man from the Ministry. It’s good to know that the PM is so engaged.
You’d have to be a pretty soul-less bean-counter not to believe that the Pitcairn Islands are a natural wonder that should be cherished as a global example of pristine oceans. With their coral reefs, sharks and turtles these waters are exceptional. It’s because the Pitcairn Islands are so remote that these waters have retained so much of their natural richness. Let us, and it is us in the UK who have the major say in this, let us not allow these marine wonders to be reduced or destroyed. Let us keep the bounty of Pitcairn intact.