Pitcairn Islands

Map of the Pitcairn islands

About the territory

The Pitcairn Islands Group comprises the volcanic islands of Pitcairn and Henderson, and the flat atolls of Ducie and Oeno. Pitcairn Island is the only inhabited island and is at latitude 25° 04’ South and longitude 130° 06’ West, about 2,170 km east-southeast of Tahiti. The islands’ administrative capital is in Auckland, New Zealand, 5310 km away.

Pitcairn Island covers a total area of about 5.1 km2 and has a population of around fifty. Henderson Island covers about 49 km2 in area and is 193 km northeast of Pitcairn Island. Oeno Island is a coral atoll, 143 km northwest of Pitcairn Island. The atoll has a diameter of 5km but a total land area of just 0.69 km2. Ducie Island is 470 km east of Pitcairn Island and covers 4 km2. Average annual rainfall on Pitcairn is 1800mm and temperatures range from 10°C to 43°C. The rainy season is during November to March with July and August being the driest months.

The islands were settled by the Polynesians for a number of centuries but they were no longer present when the group was discovered by Europeans. In 1606 a Portuguese sailor, Pedro Fernandes de Queiros, discovered the islands group although it is unclear which islands he actually landed on. Pitcairn Island was found by HMS Swallow in July 1767. In 1790 mutineers from the Bounty and some of their Tahitian companions settled on Pitcairn and burnt the ship there. Alcoholism, murder and disease reduced the numbers significantly. Contact was re-established after HMS Briton and HMS Tagus sent a party ashore in September 1817. The island became a British colony in 1838. By the mid 1850s the community was outgrowing the island and in 1856 the entire population of 193 people were transferred to Norfolk Island. However, subsequently, over forty returned to Pitcairn Island. After peaking at 233 in 1937, the population has declined, mainly as a result of emigration to New Zealand. Henderson, Oeno and Ducie were incorporated into the Pitcairn Islands Group in 1938.

Henderson was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1998. Tourism in the main industry, together with subsistence agriculture, and handicrafts and honey are sold to visiting cruise ships.

Native pandanus trees Pandanus tectorius on Pitcairn Island

Native pandanus trees Pandanus tectorius on Pitcairn Island


Much of the information on biodiversity comes from the inter-disciplinary Sir Peter Scott Commemorative Expedition to Henderson Island, 1991-92.

According to the Kew online herbarium database (quoting the PhD thesis of Kingston, 2001) there are 367 plant species, with 147 native to these islands and neighbouring French Polynesia and and a further 19 endemic to the Pitcairn Island Group. There is a high level of endemism amongst the insect fauna on Henderson Island and half the molluscan species are thought to be endemic, at least to sub-species level. Fish endemicity is regarded as low. There are no native species of reptile, amphibian or mammal.

Henderson Island is regarded as being of great ornithological importance. All four land birds there (Henderson Crake (Porzana atra), Henderson Fruit-Dove (Ptilinopus insularis), Henderson Lorikeet (Vini stepheni), Henderson Reed-warbler (Acrocephalus taiti) ) are endemic and there is one endemic bird species, Pitcairn Reed-warbler (Acrocephalus vaughani), on Pitcairn Island. Most, if not all of the world population of Henderson’s Petrels (Pterodroma atrata) and over 90% of the world population of Murphy’s Petrel (Pterodroma ultima) nest in the Group.

Over 350 species of fish have been recorded around Pitcairn, with several inshore fish known only from Pitcairn Islands. 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, sei whale, fin whales and humpback whales. A Marine Protected Areas was designated in 2016, at 834,000 km2 this is one of the largest fully protected marine reserves in the world.

Policy and legislation

Pitcairn has an Environment Charter signed jointly with the UK Government. Guiding Principle 7 is to safeguard and restore native species, habitats and landscape features, and control or eradicate invasive species. Under the associated commitment 2 the government of the Pitcairn Islands will ensure the protection and restoration of key habitats, species and landscape features through legislation and appropriate management structures and mechanisms, including a protected area policy, and attempt the control and eradication of invasive species. Implementation progress was reviewed in 2007, 2010 and 2016, read the 2016 review report (external link).

New biosecurity legislation was being drafted in 2019/2020.

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