Pitcairn Islands

About

Pitcairn is well known as the haven for the mutineers from HMS Bounty over 200 years ago. This group of four small, varied South Pacific islands range from Pitcairn itself- 4.5km2 to Henderson Island, a 37km2 raised coral atoll and the largest island, and low-lying coral atolls of Oeno and Ducie. The nearest land masses are over 4,500km away, New Zealand to WSW and South America to the east. Only Pitcairn is inhabited; the small community of less than 50 lives at Adamstown, isolated by more than a day’s sail from its nearest neighbours in French Polynesia, around 500km NW. It is a small (4km x 2km) relatively young (0.75 – 1 million years old), high volcanic island with steep slopes and a maximum altitude of 329m.

Tourism is the main economic driver on the island, but many have jobs in government. Provisions such as fruit and honey are produced as a result of the rich volcanic soils, and are sold to visiting cruise ships, as well as in the case of honey sold to international customers as the purest honey in the world.

The flora of Pitcairn includes 80 species of native vascular plants, of which ten, two ferns and eight angiosperms, are endemic. Fifty one of the native vascular plants are threatened; the endemic Coprosma benefica, known from only 11 individuals, and the endemic fern Angiopteris chauliodonta, are restricted to small and fragmented populations. They also include the national flower yellow fatu Abutilon pitcairnense rediscovered in 2003, but now extinct in the wild due to a landslide destroying the last remaining plant although the seeds have been banked in several collections in and outside of Pitcairn. The Pitcairn reed-warbler Acrocephalus vaughani is endemic.

The Henderson rail Porzana atra, Henderson lorikeet Vini stepheni, Henderson fruit-dove Ptilinopus insularis, Henderson reed-warbler Acrocephalus taiti and probably the Henderson petrel are confined to Henderson Island – a World Heritage Site and one of the world’s best remaining examples of an uplifted coral atoll. The island plateau is what was formerly the lagoon floor, lifted by the Earth’s crust flexing whin Pitcairn itself was formed. Henderson is cloaked in dense vegetation, growing on poor limestone soil and coral rubble. 7 of 16 species of land snails and 9 of 63 native vascular plant species are endemic. Approximately 180 insects are known, although the true number is likely to be higher. Green turtles Chelonia mydas use the beaches for breeding.

Oneo and Ducie, along with Henderson, are home to many globally important populations of sea birds including the Murphy’s petrel Pterodroma ultima and Herald Pterodroma arminjoniana and Kermadec Pterodroma neglecta petrels and one of the largest colonies of Christmas shearwaters Puffinus nativitatis. In the 1990s, introduced Pacific rats [sci name] were successfully removed from Oene and Ducie. In 2010, efforts were made to remove rats from Henderson, but a weather change thwarted complete eradication. These efforts continue.

Invertebrate diversity is high on Henderson with many species likely to be native and many of the mites and spiders thought to be endemic. The land snail fauna is also of immense interest on both Henderson and Pitcairn (with 16 and 26 species respectively), but there are fewer than six species on Oeno and Ducie.

Studies on the marine environment since in recent years have revealed incredibly healthy ecosystems. The local community, together with several global conservation groups and research institutions, has called for the creation of a large marine protected area to ensure their protection. Over 350 species of fish have been recorded around Pitcairn, with several inshore fish know only from Pitcairn Islands including: the squirrelfish Sargocentron megalops, the many-spined butterflyfish Hemitaurichthys multipinous, the sand lance Ammodytes sp, the triplefin Enneapterygius ornatus, and Alticus sp. Around 240 marine molluscs are known, of which about two percent are endemic, one species of liotinine gastropod belonging to a single genus (and therefore species) only known from Oeno. The deep sea around Pitcairn contains approximately 400 sea-mounts which provide important habitat for many deep-sea fish and invertebrates. 22 species of cetaceans are found including blue whale Balaenoptera musculus, sei whale Balaenoptera borealis, fin whales Balaenoptera physalus and humpback whales Megaptera novaeangliae.

Read more about the wildlife, history and cultural heritage of all of the UK Overseas Territories in the 704 page Britain’s Treasure Islands book (CLICK HERE).

Watch 42 ‘mini-documentaries’ that explore the wildlife, cultures and history of all of the UK Overseas Territories (CLICK HERE). 

Map

Video

Pitcairn Islands – wildlife and heritage

 

Life on Pitcairn Island – home of the descendants of the mutineers from HMS Bounty

 

Pitcairn Islands – Henderson Island’s wildlife

 

Read more about the wildlife, history and cultural heritage of all of the UK Overseas Territories in the 704 page Britain’s Treasure Islands book (CLICK HERE).

Watch 42 ‘mini-documentaries’ that explore the wildlife, cultures and history of all of the UK Overseas Territories (CLICK HERE).