Campaign to create Marine Protected Areas in the UK Overseas Territories

A campaign was launched today for the creation of Marine Protected Areas in the UK’s Overseas Territories. The biodiversity supported in the 17 UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) is astounding and their collective marine zone comprises an area of 6.8 million km2, making it the fifth largest in the world. In 2010, the British Indian Ocean Territory was designated the world’s largest marine protected area by the UK Government and, today, campaigners are requesting that the waters of the Pitcairn Islands, the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, and Ascension Island are given the same protection.

The Pitcairn Islands, a collection of 4 islands in the South Pacific, support a rich marine biodiversity with some of the best coral reefs in the world, healthy fish populations and intact deep sea habitats. Ascension Island is home to the second largest population of Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in the whole of the Atlantic Ocean with numbers of nests recorded on its beaches rising from 1000 to 10,000 in the 35 years since annual monitoring began. It is also of major importance as a breeding station to Tropical birds. South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands support over one hundred million seabirds and half of the world’s population of Southern elephant seals (Mirounga leonina).

Despite the importance of these three UKOTs to global biodiversity, and the fact 90% of the UK’s biodiversity is supported in the 17 UKOTs, a mere £2 million a year has been allocated to conservation in these areas, compared to £460 million per year in the UK. The campaigners, led by Zac Goldsmith, suggest that the UK Government could protect vast areas of the marine environment from illegal fishing and loss of biodiversity with very little cost, while providing a major contribution to global ocean protection.

More details can be found in the report ‘Marine Protected Areas in the UK’s Overseas Territories’. This is a collaboration between Zac Goldsmith, The Pew Trusts, Blue Marine Foundation, The RSPB (on Ascension) and Isabella Gornall.

 

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DR PHOEBE CARTER

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