New Year – new marine reserve!

2016 begins with the creation of the Atlantic’s largest marine reserve around Ascension Island. 

Ascension Island frigate birds

Ascension Island © Jonathan Hall RSPB

Great British Oceans, a campaign of the Marine Reserves Coalition, is proud to announce that the UK government will create a marine reserve, almost as big as the United Kingdom itself, in the waters of Ascension Island, a UK Overseas Territory in the Atlantic Ocean.  The marine reserve has been made possible with the support of a grant from the Bacon Foundation, which will cover the costs of enforcement over the coming fishing season, and which will contribute to surveillance, science and management for the next 18 months.

The Marine Reserves Coalition, whose members include the Zoological Society of London, the Blue Marine Foundation, Greenpeace UK, the Marine Conservation Society, RSPB and The Pew Charitable Trusts, has been campaigning since 2014 for the designation of a marine reserve in Ascension’s waters.

Money from the Bacon Foundation grant will be used to close an area of 52.6% of Ascension’s waters to fishing, to monitor and enforce the closed area with a combination of satellite and patrol boats, to police a tuna fishery in line with the best international standards in the other 47.4% of Ascension’s waters, and to carry out scientific research to scope the final boundaries of a marine reserve which could be declared, subject to local agreement, as soon as 2017.

Ascension Island location

Ascension Island location

The closed area will comprise all waters within 50 nautical miles of the island and everything south of 8 degrees south. The waters here are home to some of the largest marlin in the world, numerous species of shark, globally important nesting areas for green turtles, big colonies of tropical seabirds and the island’s own endemic frigate bird.

The creation of an Ascension marine reserve builds upon other notable recent announcements by governments around the world. During 2015, marine protected areas have been designated in waters around Palau in the North Pacific, Easter Island in the South Pacific, and New Zealand’s Kermadec islands. The world’s largest fully protected marine reserve was also declared by the UK government in the waters surrounding the Pitcairn Islands, a UK Overseas Territory in the South Pacific, which we expect to be implemented in 2016.

Ascension green turtle © Jonathan Hall RSPB

Ascension Island © Jonathan Hall RSPB

The announcement of progress in Ascension is yet another significant step that contributes to the government’s commitment to create a “blue belt” of protected ocean around the UK’s 14 Overseas Territories.

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