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Northern rockhopper penguins on Gough Island in the Tristan da Cunha chain. Photo: Auscape/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The waters around the remote inhabited island of Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic are set to become the world's fourth-largest marine sanctuary.

The big picture: Currently less than 3% of the world's ocean area is fully protected from human activity, compared to 13% of the world's much smaller land mass. With the oceans coming under increasing pressure from fishing, pollution and climate change, expanding true marine sanctuaries is more important than ever.

By the numbers: The four-island archipelago of Tristan da Cunha is a British territory that is more than 2,000 miles east of South America and a week-long boat trip from South Africa.

  • The new marine sanctuary, which was announced on Friday, will encompass 265,437 square miles, making it almost three times larger than the entire United Kingdom.

How it works: 90% of the waters around the island chain will become a full "no-take" sanctuary, meaning that fishing, mining, and any other kind of extractive activity will be banned.

  • The sanctuary will be part of the U.K. government's larger Blue Belt Programme, which already protects some 2.7 million square miles of marine ecosystems around British territory across the globe.

What they're saying: "This is a place that has a unique ecosystem that is found nowhere else," marine conservationist Enric Sala told National Geographic magazine.

The bottom line: It wasn't that long ago that even environmentalists thought the oceans were far too vast to be affected by human activity, but we now know that's not the case. If we want the oceans and all they support to thrive in the future, we need to protect them in the present.

Editor's note: A reference to a PNAS paper on how expanding marine protected areas might improve future fishing catches was deleted, after the paper was retracted.

Go deeper

World ocean temperatures in 2021 were hottest ever recorded

Expand chart
Data: Cheng, L. J, and Coauthors, 2022; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

World ocean temperatures in 2021 were the hottest ever recorded by humans, according to a new peer-reviewed study.

Driving the news: The research ties the warming trend conclusively to human emissions of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas.

Virginia attorney general fires Jan. 6 investigator from university post

McIntire Amphitheater at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia. Photo: Robert Knopes/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

The lead investigator for the Jan. 6 House select committee investigating the Capitol riot has been fired from his position as the University of Virginia's counsel by the state's new Republican attorney general, per the Washington Post.

Why it matters: Democrats say the removal of Tim Heaphy from his post after some three years while he's on leave from the university to investigate the insurrection is likely "retribution" for the House probe — an accusation strongly denied by the office of state Attorney General Jason Miyares (R).

4 hours ago - World

Taiwan's military scrambles jets after detecting 39 Chinese warplanes

J-20 stealth fighter jets in Zhuhai in the Guangdong Province of China last year. Photo: Chen Jimin/China News Service via Getty Images

Taiwan's defense force said 39 Chinese warplanes flew into its Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) on Sunday.

Why it matters: The largest Chinese air force incursion into the zone since October came a day after the U.S. and Japanese navies conducted a joint exercise in the Philippine Sea.