In the UK Overseas Territories
In addition to the seas around the British Isles, the UK is also responsible for the waters around all of the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs), of which there are 14. When taking these waters into account, the UK has the fifth largest area of ocean under its jurisdiction (6.8 million square kilometres) after the USA, France, Australia and Russia.
There are currently only two sizeable marine protected areas in the UKOTs; the Chagos Marine Reserve and the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area.
Over 90% of the UK’s biodiversity is found in its overseas territories, and the UKOTs support a large number of rare and threatened species as well as unique ecosystems found nowhere else on Earth. The Marine Reserves Coalition is looking to the UK Government to demonstrate its commitment to the protection of marine biodiversity in the UKOTs and to declare networks of fully protected marine reserves throughout all UK waters.
In 2010 the UK declared the Chagos Marine Reserve in the British Indian Ocean Territory. At approximately 640,000 square kilometres, Chagos is the largest no-take marine reserve in the world. Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the Chagos Archipelago consists of 55 islands surrounded by vast coral reefs and pristine waters. With some of the healthiest and most abundant marine life on the planet, Chagos is one of the jewels in the crown of the world’s oceans and its designation as a marine reserve will help ensure that it stays that way for years to come. To find out more about Chagos, visit the Chagos Conservation Trust.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
In February 2012 the UK declared the waters around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) as a Marine Protected Area (MPA). At 1.07 million square kilometres the SGSSI MPA is on paper, the world’s largest. However, most of this area is not fully protected, with fishing set to continue as normal throughout the vast majority of the MPA, and only 20,000 square kilometres (just 2% of the whole area) has been declared ‘no-take’ i.e., fully protected. So although it is a step in the right direction, without additional management measures, the MPA does not offer any new protection for ecosystems or the vast majority of marine life in the area.
A new marine reserve, the ‘Blue Halo Marine Reserve’ has been proposed in the waters around Bermuda. 650 miles off the east coast of North America, Bermuda and its surrounding waters lie within the Sargasso Sea, an enormous mass of water that is driven in a clockwise direction by strong ocean currents. Floating on the water’s surface are large mats of seaweed known as Sargassum, which support a unique variety of marine life. The Bermudian Government is interested in protecting part of its waters in a no-take marine reserve in order to safeguard this amazing ecosystem and lead efforts to achieve further protection for the Sargasso Sea. For more information visit the Bermuda Blue Halo website.
The Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific are home to some of the most pristine waters and reefs on earth, with the world’s most southerly coral atoll and a World Heritage Site at Henderson Island. Just 55 people live here, but the area of water encompassed by the islands stands at a staggering 836,000 square kilometres, much of it little impacted by human exploitation. Leaders of the Pitcairn Islands are working with the Pew Charitable Trusts, on the prospect of creating a marine reserve within its waters. To discover more about the Pitcairn, read about the recent expedition to the Islands by the National Geographic.
For more information on current campaigns for marine reserves in other UKOTs, visit the Pew Charitable Trust’s Global Ocean Legacy.