An underwater bounty

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.


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19 Replies to “An underwater bounty”

  1. Did the Man from the Ministry have a name? Would he, or his colleagues, like a letter, do you suppose? I would like him to get loads, preferably bedecked with fantastic colour pictures of fishes and other wonders of the deep. Might cheer the cockles of his heart which are clearly somewhat chilled.

    I begin to wonder whether there should be another Government Health Warning: 'Bean counting can seriously damage your joie de vivre'. I believe it's all to with the neck muscles; too much Scrooge- like stooping over said legumes leads to muscular atrophy and the inability to look up to see the migrating geese overhead. But of course, it the the Government, and their kin, who most need the warning.

    1. Susan - thank you. Yes he has a name but I think I may come back to this subject next week and then you will be asked to leap into action - thank you for being so eager!

  2. When did New Zealand change it's name Mark or am I still a bit bleary eyed? I think the islands have one's remoteness. Very hard to make a profit for fishing when they are that remote. Out of curiosity as I have little knowledge of this island chain, what's their soverignty? Could this be the reason for a lack of enthusiam from the man from the Foreign office?

    1. Douglas - The Queen is the Head of State and appoints a Governor (High Commissioner to New Zealand). There is an Island Council that runs the place and expresses the views of the inhabitants. The FCO has an Overseas Territories Directorate. The Department for International Development is the main funding body. Defra pays some attention to the environmental issues. Straight forward, it ain't!

      Have a look at and

  3. Mark

    You may therefore be very interested in this:


  4. OK - I give in - is it Henderson Island ....... you know the one ...... the one with lots of ........ you know......?

  5. Thank you Mark. We will do all we can to make the marine reserve a reality. This is one good positive project that can really work for PI. The powers to be will try to fob us off yet again but our environment is too precious not to try and preserve especially for future generations. Your positive blog help others to know where we are. The smallest and remotest place in the world could have the biggest marine reserve on this planet. Thank you from Adamstown Pitcairn Island

    1. Meralda - welcome! And thank you so much for your comment. And I admire what you are all trying to do on Pitcairn.

  6. I can hear the man from the ministry yawning about the proposal for Pitcairn - if these people [elected or not] are so bored with their jobs why don't they just b....r off. The 'problems' he mentions are a load of hogwash. Its really so easy - have the courage and foresight and just say yes, do it. [My Gran was always telling me - only regret the things you don't do, never the things you did. ] If this is what the islanders want I would say mentioning 'resources' 'assets' and 'sustainable management' is being a dog in the manger.
    I note that when a Government offered St Helena an airport, which the islanders said they wanted, there was no yawning or hogwashing. That this airport will result in an even more uncertain future for their sole remaining endemic bird, the St Helena Plover [Wirebird] seemed not to be an issue.

  7. Sounds like a wonderful place and deserving of protection. But it raises a host of questions. As its so remote I would imagine the Royal Navy don't spend much time there. It must be remoteness that has protected the region so far. Is there evidence it is actually threatened? Is there a risk that publicity will bring the potential of this region to the attention of potential exploiters? If a no fishing zone is declared who will enforce it? If say Chilean and Peruvian fisherman who seem to be the nearest are fishing there or decide to fish there who is going to stop them? I guess the man from the ministry was thinking about the millions it would cost to police a no fish zone. Who is going to take on a commitment like that in the current financial climate. Isn't it possible and potentially self defeating that the ministry will suggest licensed fishing to generate the income to enforce a degree of protection. What if its a choice between spending money on marine reserves in the south pacific or uk waters? Just wondered.

    The results of the South Georgia consultation are due in December. This might be a good indicator of the way these things are likely to go. Is there any link between the two proposals and what about other similar territories like Tristan da Cunha, St Helena and Rockall?

  8. It is very disheartening to read that a The National Geographic Team was so excited with what they found and how to keep these waters pristine. Henderson Island is a World Heritage Sire. It would be nice for generations to come to have a clean prisitine waters. There are fish and birds that are only native to these Islands. With many species becoming extinct, I would think that HMG would ebrace the Pew Foundation and the People of Pitcairn's Marine Reserve.
    The people of Pitcairn are so isolated. I am sure the Slype session was so exciting for them. As I write this, I am eating shortbread and honey (the honey is from Pitcairn and the purest in the world.) It would be nice to assist these people keep their water's and their Island pristine and able to sustain them for future generations.
    Thank you Mark. Very interesting blog. Who can I write to to urge them to vote for the Marine Reserve??

  9. Thank you so very much for your comments, Mark. Watching the speech, on Pitcairn, we felt very much the same as you did when 'the Minister' made his speech - which, interestingly enough, seemed to have been mirrored by the Governor's Rep here. In Council, she informed us that the powers-that-be were going to have to give serious consideration to the proposal, and that there were many important aspects to the considerations, cost of administration and policing of the area among them.

    I could not help but think that, if we had a carrot to dangle, as in, Diego Garcia in the Chagos Islands (green backs with $$ figures), the Pitcairn MPA would have been a done deal ages ago. What good is money after there's nothing left of the environment?
    This Reserve is important to us, and are willing to stand up and fight for it!

    Thank you for your support.

    1. Melva - Welcome! And thank you so much for commenting on this blog from right across the world on Pitcairn. Isn't technology wonderful? What good is money if there is nothing left of the environment indeed!

  10. Read about Pitcairn Island from the teachers who were there for a year of teaching. Very interesting read for the outsiders:


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