On 10th September in Parliament, Zac Goldsmith MP, Stanley Johnson, the RSPB, the Blue Marine Foundation and the Pew Trusts presented a pamphlet calling on the Government to commit to creating Marine Protected Areas around three of its Overseas Territories: Pitcairn, Ascension, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
Speaking at the launch of ‘Marine Protected Areas in the UK’s Overseas Territories’, Mr Goldsmith said; ‘it is estimated that 90% of all large fish are gone and that 15 of the world’s 17 large fisheries either have collapsed or are on the brink of collapse.’
The UK currently controls about 2% of the world’s oceans, and the fifth largest, and possibly the most diverse, marine zone in the world. Most of this area is within the UK Overseas Territories which host 90% of our nations biodiversity. In 2010, the British Government created a Marine Protected Area – the world’s largest – in the British Indian Ocean Territory.
During the event Mr Goldsmith said ‘we know that marine protected areas work. During World War two, when fishing was prevented in the Atlantic, fish populations soared incredibly quickly. Spain has a terrible record on fishing around the world, but catches close to the famous Tabarca marine reserve, the country’s first, were 85% higher than elsewhere after just six years of protection.’
Mr Goldsmith added ‘the UK’s Overseas Territories are calling on the UK Government to help them establish marine protected areas, and of course we must.” He added; “Creating a Marine Protected Area in Pitcairn alone would represent one of the most significant conservation measures ever taken by any government.”
Pitcairn is inhabited by descendants of the famous mutineers of the Bounty. The Islands are remote and have some of the best coral reefs in the world. It is currently unprotected. The proposed Pitcairn reserve would be the world’s largest single fully protected area – 834,000km2.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are uninhabited. They have a vast marine area, recognised world-wide for the importance of its wildlife. Home to more than 100m seabirds and half the world’s population of southern elephant seals, it is one of the world’s most diverse and scientifically significant regions on the planet.
Ascension Island lies in the middle of the rich equatorial waters of the South Atlantic. The peak of a gigantic undersea volcano, it holds the second largest green turtle nesting site in the Atlantic and one of the most important tropical seabird breeding stations in the world. Its waters are full of significant populations of big ocean predators including tuna, dolphins, sharks, and marlin.
The precise cost to administer the MPAs is not known, but even the biggest estimates put it at a fraction of total funding by the Department of International Development. Until now the Government has spent about £2 million a year on conservation amongst its Overseas Territories, compared with £460 million in the UK. This means that the areas most important to global biodiversity are the least resourced.
Zac Goldsmith finished by stating: ‘We have it in our power today to create the world’s largest fully protected marine reserves. Given their importance to nature and human livelihoods, and the fact that even the more extravagant costs associated with protecting those sites represent only the tiniest fraction of the annual funding of the Department for International Development, this surely represents good value for money. Here is a golden opportunity for the British Government.’
The Rt Hon Oliver Letwin, who spoke at the event, said; ‘‘this is an enormously useful thing to bring forward. We have extraordinary potential here. I agree that imperfect enforcement is better than no enforcement. Speaking on the Government’s behalf, we receive this report with sympathy and real enthusiasm. I will do my best to create a forum for discussion which I hope Zac will help to coordinate. It is action now and/or a manifesto commitment.’
Stanley Johnson added; “‘So much great work has gone on here. This is a fantastic opportunity and I am very encouraged by Oliver Letwins remarks.”
Jonathan Hall, RSPB Head of UK Overseas Territories said: ‘The creation of a fully protected Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary would be a major step towards protecting the threatened Atlantic. It would be a refuge for dwindling tuna fish stocks, endangered Green Turtles and would play its role as a beacon of ocean conservation. Alongside the other proposed reserves it could and should be declared tomorrow, creating a fabulous and historic achievement for the end of this Parliament.’
Link to Brochure online: http://www.zacgoldsmith.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/MPA-Brochure_AW_LRes2.pdf