Pitcairn Islands: The Clearest Visibility in the Pacific Ocean

A remote archipelago in the Pacific Ocean anchors the world’s largest contiguous marine reserve.  
Sharks, including whitetip reef sharks, circle coral in the new
Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve in the South Pacific. Photo: Enric Sala/National Geographic
Sharks, including whitetip reef sharks, circle coral in the new Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve in the South Pacific. Photo: Enric Sala/National Geographic

Marine ecologist and National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala describes the waters around the British-governed Pitcairn Islands as having “the clearest visibility ever measured in the Pacific Ocean.” In March 2012, Sala travelled there with other scientists as part of the National Geographic Society’s Pristine Seas project. “The remote archipelago, east of Australia, was hypnotic, teeming with schools of thousands of fish—red snappers, parrotfish, rudderfish—in an ocean from a thousand years ago. We observed extraordinary things, from a pristine reef with blue corals that looked like giant roses to species never reported before for the Pitcairn Islands. Also remarkable was the abundance of sharks, which signals a healthy ecosystem. Never having seen a human or heard a motor, they were very curious.”

Thanks in part to Sala’s expedition, along with the Pitcairn Islands and the Pew Charitable Trusts, the British government in March 2015 established the world’s largest contiguous marine reserve, encompassing around 8,34,000 square kilometres. Sala’s account of the expedition appears in the new National Geographic book, Pristine Seas: Journeys to the Ocean’s Last Wild Places (2015).

Pristine Seas is one of National Geographic’s key initiatives dedicated to preserving the last truly wild places in the ocean. More details and updates on the Pristine Seas project are available at ocean.nationalgeographic.com/ocean/explore/pristine-seas.

Appeared in the June 2016 issue as “Treasure Islands”.

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