In a Commons debate on Britain’s Overseas Territories, Mr Goldsmith called on the Government to commit to creating marine Protected Areas around some of its Overseas territories.
Speaking in the debate, he 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. A recent study published in Science magazine predicted that all the world’s fisheries will collapse by 2048 if current trends are allowed to continue.’
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 debate 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 overseas territories are calling on the UK Government to help them establish marine protected areas, and of course we must.” He cited three areas where MPAs could be easily and quickly established; Pitcairn, Ascension and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
Pitcairn is inhabited by descendants of the famous mutineers of the Bounty. The Islands are remote and are neither polluted nor over-fished. Its fish populations, including top predators such as sharks, are healthy, and it has some of the best coral reefs in the world, intact deep sea habitats and many species new to science. It is currently unprotected, and it is only a matter of time before the area is exploited.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are uninhabited. They has 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 cost to administer the MPAs is not known, but even the most extravagant estimates put it at an almost immeasurably small fraction of total funding by the Department of International Development.
Zac Goldsmith finished by stating that: “Given their importance to nature and human livelihoods, the proven and unarguable benefits of MPAs, the fact that we have it in our power today to create the world’s largest fully protected marine reserves, and 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 Government; they just have to stop dragging their feet and take the opportunity.”
Notes to the Editor
For more details on this debate: http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2014-05-08b.157.0#g169.3
Environmental Audit Committee report on Sustainability in the United Kingdom Overseas Territories: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/environmental-audit-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/sustainability-in-the-united-kingdom-overseas-territories/