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How the infamous Pitcairn Island became a model of ocean conservation

Pitcairn Island, one of the remotest places on Earth, was once home to mutineers. Today it’s a trailblazer in biodiversity protection with lessons for us all

By Graham Lawton

1 April 2024

2PMHEF7 Panoramic aerial of Pitcairn island, British Overseas Territory, South Pacific, Pacific

Pitcairn is one of the remotest inhabited islands in the world

Michael Runkel/robertharding/Ala​my

AFTER four nights at sea on a pitching and rolling ship, the announcement over the Tannoy is the sound of sweet relief. “Land ahoy!”

I get dressed and lurch out onto the foredeck. If it really is ahoy, I can’t see it. The sun is coming up and dazzling the point on the horizon where terra firma should be, due east of our position in the middle of the South Pacific. The ship rolls sickeningly and I retreat to my berth.

A couple of hours later, I re-emerge and am greeted by an awesome sight – a rugged green rock rising out of the ocean like something from the film Jurassic Park.

This is Pitcairn, one of the remotest inhabited islands in the world and part of a British overseas territory. I am here to find out how this isolated community is aiming to put its dark past behind it and reinvent itself as a paradigm of ocean conservation – and also if there are lessons to be learned more generally about how to protect marine biodiversity. But as always on this precarious outpost, there are squalls gathering on the horizon. How can Pitcairn’s stellar conservation efforts continue when its already tiny population is dwindling?

Pitcairn is best known as the final destination of nine mutineers from the ship HMAV Bounty, who made landfall in January 1790 along with 11 Tahitian women and six Tahitian men they…

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