In a huge success for wildlife, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) today congratulates the UK government on its decision to protect an additional two million square kilometres of British waters in the UK Overseas Territories.
The commitment will double the area of ocean under marine protection, to a size greater than the landmass of India, safeguarding against unsustainable and pirate fishing and helping the world meet its global target of protecting at least 10% of the marine environment by 2020.
The waters of the Pitcairn Islands, a UK Overseas Territory (UKOT) in the South Pacific, have been legally designated as a fully-protected marine reserve. Covering 836,000km², this is now one of the largest marine reserves in the world. It will safeguard the pristine habitats, and unique and vulnerable species, that Pitcairn is home to, and will put Pitcairn on the global map as a leader in ocean protection.
Three further UKOTS - these in the South Atlantic - St. Helena, Tristan da Cunha and Ascension Island, will come under increased marine protection too.
At least half of Ascension Island’s territorial waters (covering 220,000km2) will be designated as a fully-protected marine reserve by 2019, permanently closed to commercial fishing. This will follow a scientific roadmap process, outlined by the Ascension Island Government.
Around St. Helena, 444,000km² has been designated as a sustainable-use marine protected area, where damaging fishing methods such as bottom-trawling, gill-nets and purse-seining are now banned. These measures will help safeguard the maritime environment that is home to over forty endemic species and supports a diverse array of marine life including whale sharks, humpbacks and turtles.
754,000km² of extremely rich waters around Tristan da Cunha will be safeguarded via a protection regime by 2020. This process will be led by the 270-person Tristan community who call this dormant volcano, the most remote inhabited island in the world, their home. The community are incredibly proud of their marine environment, obtaining the majority of their income from their sustainability-certified lobster fishery.
Recognising that designation is just the first step the UK government has also promised £20 million in funding over four years to monitor, manage and enforce these protected areas from unsustainable and pirate fishing.
As the lead of the Great British Oceans campaign, ZSL has been heavily involved in the work towards greater marine protection in the UKOTs.
Fiona Llewellyn, ZSL’s Great British Oceans Coordinator said: "With our MRC partners, we’ve been driving the Great British Oceans campaign since the start of 2015; a campaign which has proven to be instrumental in these fantastic steps forward for ocean conservation."
For more information visit the Great British Oceans website.