Ascension – reserve gives lasting protection to marine wilderness

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 14 March 2019

Chancellor Philip Hammond has used his Spring Statement to announce the Government will support the Ascension Island Council’s call to designate all its offshore waters as a Marine Protected Area (MPA), with no fishing allowed in this zone.

Green Turtle
© Peter Richardson

This vital refuge for turtles, sharks and tuna will be fully protected against threats such as fishing, and represents a great advance for the UK in seeking to protect valuable marine life across all of our overseas territories

Amdeep Sanghera,
MCS UK Overseas Territories Conservation Officer

443,000 square kilometres (171,000 square miles) of ocean around the UK Overseas Territory will now be fully protected, with fishing only being permitted for the local Ascension island fishery within 12 nautical miles of the island.

Amdeep Sanghera, MCS UK Overseas Territories Conservation Officer, said “The waters around Ascension Island are amongst the last pristine marine wildernesses in our oceans. We commend the Chancellor’s bold decision to support the Ascension Island’s local government in creating the largest highly-protected marine reserve in the Atlantic.”

Before yesterday’s announcement, the Government had backed a reserve, closed to fishing, covering half the island’s waters, but the other half was fished by long line tuna fleets.

The long line tuna fleets were known to catch sharks, turtles and seabirds as accidental “bycatch” and there were allegations of safety and human rights abuses on the vessels involved, the Blue Marine Foundation, who support the creation of marine reserves globally, said.

Amdeep added: “This vital refuge for turtles, sharks and tuna will be fully protected against threats such as fishing, and represents a great advance for the UK in seeking to protect valuable marine life across all of our overseas territories”

When protected, this new no-take zone around Ascension Island would bring the total percentage of MPAs in the UK’s territorial waters, Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to over 50%.

The move is part of the UK’s Blue Belt programme to protect millions of square kilometres of oceans in its Overseas Territories and comes as Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, reiterated his call for 30% of the world’s ocean to be protected by 2030 and called on other nations to follow the UK’s lead.

UN Patron of the Oceans, endurance swimmer, Lewis Pugh, said: I’m delighted to hear that the UK has heeded our call to fully protect the waters around Ascension Island, a jewel in the Atlantic Ocean. Protecting 30% of the world’s oceans need not be a dream.”

Charles Clover, executive director of Blue Marine Foundation, said: “We congratulate the Chancellor for making an announcement of global significance in supporting the Ascension Island Council’s wonderful and far-sighted decision to create the largest fully protected marine reserve in the Atlantic.”

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “With a marine estate stretching across the globe, the UK is uniquely positioned to lead the way in protecting the world’s oceans and precious marine life.

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