A small island, made a giant contribution to protect the world’s oceans

A community of 250 people on one of the most remote inhabited island on Earth has made a significant contribution to the conservation of marine wildlife by prohibiting bottom trawling, offshore mining and other harmful activities in its waters.

The government of Tristan da Cunha, a volcanic archipelago in the South Atlantic and part of the UK’s Overseas Territories, has announced that nearly 700,000 square kilometers of its waters will be converted into a Marine Protected Area (MPA), the fourth largest sanctuary largest of this type in the world.

In doing so, the community will safeguard the wealth of wildlife in the area, including the globally threatened seven-gill sharks, yellow-nosed albatross and Atlantic petrel, grasshopper penguins and other birds that live there, and help the UK government to achieve its goal of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.

The UK, which has a duty to protect wildlife found throughout its territories, will be responsible for the long-term monitoring and enforcement of this vast area – three times the size of Britain and 2,400 km of the nearest habitation. , Saint Helena.

James Glass, Chief Islander of Tristan da Cunha, said: “Our life in Tristan da Cunha has always been based on our relationship with the sea, and that continues today. The Tristan community is deeply committed to conservation: on land, we have already declared protected status for more than half of our territory.

“But the sea is our vital resource, for our economy and, ultimately, for our long-term survival. That is why we are fully protecting 90% of our waters, and we are proud to be able to play a key role in preserving the health of the oceans ”.

Tristan da Cunha is located in the middle of the South Atlantic, 2,400 kilometers from the nearest populated territory.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was delighted with the development, supported by the British “blue belt” program, as it meant the UK was now protecting 4.3 million square kilometers, or 1% of the world’s oceans. .

In a statement, the prime minister called on other nations to join Britain in its ambition to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2020. He said: “We are in danger of killing our seas. We are heating them, making them more acidic, and every day we fill them with plastic that drowns turtles and poisons dolphins and is turning our ocean into a vast floating garbage dump.

“We need collective global action if we want to pass on a world that is as wonderful and magnificent as the one we inherited.”

The RSPB described the new MPA as the ‘jewel in the UK’s marine protection crown’.

Beccy Speight, its CEO, said: “Tristan da Cunha is a place like no other. The waters surrounding this remote overseas territory of the United Kingdom are some of the richest in the world. Tens of millions of seabirds soar above the waves, penguins and seals flock to the beaches, threatened sharks breed offshore and mysterious whales feed in deep-sea canyons. As of today, we can say that all this is protected ”.

Lord Goldsmith, UK Environment Minister, described the announcement as a “major environmental victory” and a “critically important step in protecting the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems.”

However, some NGOs compared Britain’s support for marine protection in its overseas territories to its track record in protecting marine habitats at home. The Guardian recently revealed that all but two of Britain’s offshore MPAs were being washed ashore.

Jonathan Hall, Head of UK Overseas Territories for the RSPB, said: “We should also be considering protecting UK waters. The contrast is stark. We have this small community that is showing leadership in protecting its waters, but there have been many examples this year where more effective management of our existing protected areas is needed. “

Melissa Moore, Head of Policy for Oceana UK, said: “We welcome the government’s efforts to get more nations to sign up to protect 30% of their seas. However, it is ridiculous to support protection abroad, but not in UK waters; they must also protect all UK marine protected areas from harmful activities such as trawling, just as Tristan da Cunha will do ”.

The announcement is the result of a 20-year-long international partnership in development, involving the RSPB, the UK government, and an international coalition of partners including National Geographic and the Blue Marine Foundation.

By Karen McVeigh. Article in English

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