The Tristan da Cunha Government has announced it will designate a marine protection zone around the island
The Great British Oceans coalition warmly welcomes the announcement that Tristan da Cunha will designate 687,000 square kilometres (265,000 square miles) of its waters as a fully-protected marine protection zone (MPZ). This means that all extractive activities, including fishing, will be completely excluded from over 90% of Tristan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), safeguarding the diverse marine wildlife and huge seabird populations that live around the islands of this UK Overseas Territory. With the effects of overfishing and climate change evident throughout the Southern Atlantic Ocean, this enormous MPZ will provide essential respite for many species in the years ahead, while improving Tristan da Cunha’s resilience against a changing climate.
We congratulate the Government and people of Tristan da Cunha for their visionary leadership. This will be the largest fully-protected marine area in the Atlantic, and the fourth largest in the world. This small community of 250 people are now world-leaders in marine conservation.
The creation of the MPZ is the result of years of work and collaboration by the Tristan Government and community, the UK Government, and NGOs, including Great British Oceans and led by RSPB and National Geographic. Tristan has been provided with crucial support by the UK Government’s Blue Belt Programme, which was introduced in 2016 with the aim of helping to deliver over 4,000,000 square kilometres of marine protection across the UK Overseas Territories by 2020.
The Blue Belt Programme: four years of success
The Blue Belt ranks as one of the UK’s most ambitious environmental policies to date, and since 2016 there have been remarkable achievements for marine protection in the UK Overseas Territories. In 2019, the Ascension Island Council announced the designation of 443,000 square kilometres of its EEZ as a fully protected area, while fishing in the 445,000 square kilometres of the St Helena EEZ is managed according to the IUCN’s guidelines for a Category VI marine protected area (MPA). Together, the UK Overseas Territories of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha protect 1,575,000 square kilometres of varied and vital habitats.
In the Pacific Ocean, Pitcairn Islands announced the creation of a fully protected MPA over the vast majority of its EEZ in 2016, while in the Southern Ocean, the no-take zone around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands expanded to 23% of the EEZ in 2018. Combined with the MPA around the British Indian Ocean Territory, which the Blue Belt helps to manage and enforce, the UK and its Overseas Territories will soon have 2,888,000 square kilometres of their waters fully protected, amounting to 42% of the collective total.
Scientific and enforcement support is provided by the Blue Belt to all these territories, and HMG deserves congratulations for the major role it has played in enabling these dramatic gains in marine protection. These gains have enabled the UK Government to show global leadership when advocating a new UN High Seas Treaty and negotiating the post-2020 biodiversity framework via the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).
The future of the Blue Belt
UK Overseas Territory governments, plus all their supporting partners in the UK Government and across the NGO sector who have contributed to the Blue Belt’s success can be very proud of what has been achieved to date. However, while there have been major steps forward with the designations of massive MPAs, several of them are yet to have their management plans implemented. In addition, full protection of the South Sandwich Islands (SSI) remains a job half-done, and must be a priority of the South Georgia and UK Governments over the years to come.
Getting the MPAs to a stage where marine life is effectively protected will require the continued support of the Blue Belt, but funding for the programme is currently due to expire in March 2021.
The funding necessary for Ascension’s marine reserve in particular will need to be announced by the UK Government during the forthcoming Comprehensive Spending Review, and it is crucial that this money is made available. Great British Oceans estimates that £7 million per annum is required from 2021-24 to maintain the existing network of Blue Belt MPAs while expanding the programme to include the Caribbean UK Overseas Territories and Bermuda.
A long-term Blue Belt Programme will support the UK Overseas Territories in managing their existing MPAs and protecting key ecosystem services, further sustaining the blue economies of tourism and fishing that will be critical in post-COVID recovery. To abandon the Blue Belt at this stage would risk creating a series of MPAs that protect in name only, at a time when the UK is seeking to build global consensus and generate momentum around protecting at least 30% of the global ocean.