In recent months three countries have declared areas of sea the size of Mexico as marine protected areas. In March, Britain announced a protected area around the Pitcairn Islands, which will be the world’s largest, at 834,000 square kilometres. In September, New Zealand presented plans to extend an existing protected area around the South Pacific Kermadec Islands to cover around 620,000 sq km. In October, Chile declared a marine protected area around Easter Island encompassing 631,000 sq km. These announcements have focused much-needed attention on a subject that has long been in the shadows.
The declaration of protected areas for the conservation of marine wildlife is not a new idea. From community-managed sites to more formal arrangements enshrined in national legislation, they have been around for several centuries. The first were relatively small and generally in the narrow strip of territorial waters that extend 12 nautical miles from the coast.