The UK Abroad Territory is turning into one of many world's largest wildlife sanctuaries

The UK Overseas Territory is becoming one of the world's largest wildlife sanctuaries.

  • The government and the people of Tristan da Cunha are giving with the support of an international partnership to which the British government, RSPB, National Geographic Pristine Seas, the Blue Nature Alliance, the Becht Family Charitable Trust as well as the Blue Marine Foundation, the Wyss Foundation, Kaltroco and Don Quixote, a visionary statement from II Foundation, British Antarctic Survey, University of Plymouth, and Natural History Museum
  • In one of the most important environmental announcements in the world this year, the small archipelago becomes the largest exclusion zone in the Atlantic
  • Tens of millions of sea birds, including albatross and penguins, as well as whales, sharks and seals, live in the largely untouched nature reserve

As of November 13, 2020, the most distant inhabited island on earth has become one of the world's largest protected areas for life above and below the waves thanks to an international partnership that supports the local community and protects nature.

The community of Tristan da Cunha, a small chain of islands over 6,000 miles from London in the South Atlantic, has declared that nearly 700,000 km2 of its waters will join the British Marine Protection Blue Belt, becoming the largest exclusion zone in the Atlantic and the fourth largest on the planet.

Spectacled Petrel, Tristan de Cunha, copyright Graham Ekins, from the Surfbirds Galleries

The 687,247 km2 marine reserve – almost three times the size of the UK – will protect one of the most pristine marine environments in the world and preserve the abundance of wildlife. The marine protection zone around Tristan is the gold standard of marine protection. No fishing or other raw material activities, also known as the “no-take zone”, are permitted in the entire area.

This step makes the Tristan Islanders the guardians of the largest exclusion zone in the relatively unprotected Atlantic.

A recent study by the University of California and the National Geographic Society (see notes) found that a ban on fishing in 5 percent or more of the ocean would increase world fishing by at least 20 percent in the future.

The Tristan da Cunha government announcement supports the UK government in its quest to lead global efforts to tackle the natural crisis and protect 30% of the world's oceans by 2030. Britain has found a duty to protect wildlife in all of its territories and will be responsible for long-term monitoring and enforcement of this vast area.

Tristan da Cunha has a long history of protecting its unique environment. This latest achievement is the result of 20 years of hard work. It started with the RSPB working with the Tristan da Cunha government to lay the foundations for conservation and support Tristan's exemplary management of its sustainable lobster fishery. This was followed by the British government's five-year Blue Belt support program, followed by an international coalition of partners who generously supported the final phase. The RSPB and National Geographic have also partnered with the Blue Nature Alliance, the Becht Family Charitable Trust and the Blue Marine Foundation, the Wyss Foundation, Kaltroco, and the Don Quixote II Foundation to make this large-scale declaration possible.

Tristan da Cunha is an archipelago located 2,400 km from the nearest land. It takes longer to sail from Cape Town to Tristan da Cunha than Apollo 11 to reach the moon.

James Glass, Tristan da Cunha's chief islander, said: “Today we are happy to announce our marine reserve, exactly 25 years after we declared Gough Island a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Tristan Group.

“Our life on Tristan da Cunha has always been based on our relationship with the sea, and that continues to this day. The Tristan community is intensely committed to nature conservation: On land, we have already declared protection status for more than half of our territory. But the sea is our vital resource, for our economy and ultimately for our long-term survival. That's why we fully protect 90% of our waters – and we pride ourselves on the key role we can play in keeping the oceans healthy.

“The Blue Belt program, RSPB and many others have been valuable partners in helping Tristan da Cunha develop its marine conservation strategy. Our long-term relationships were a strong foundation for this project: They are intended to help secure the unique biodiversity of our archipelago for the future population of the planet. "

Beccy Speight, the executive director of the RSPB said: “This is a story that is two decades in the making, from when the RSPB and the government of Tristan da Cunha started a conservation partnership, to the creation of this important protected area worldwide. The new Tristan MPZ will be the largest restricted area in the Atlantic. The jewel in the crown of UK marine protection as a no-extractive area.

“Tristan da Cunha is a place like no other. The waters surrounding this remote British overseas territory are some of the richest in the world. Dozens of millions of sea birds soar over the waves, penguins and seals crowd the beaches, endangered sharks breed off the coast and mysterious whales feed in the deep water canyons. As of today we can say that all of this is protected.

“In 2020, the importance of nature in our lives has never been so clear. While Tristan da Cunha may be a long way off, it is still close to our hearts and its protection is still a UK responsibility. Closer to home, the natural crisis is also enormous. So big that our well-being, economic future, and survival depend on the choices we make now about the natural world. We need politicians who will emulate the leadership of this small community to build the world we all want to live in. We hope that today's fantastic announcement is the first of many more to help revitalize our world. "

Enric Sala, Explorer-in-Residence for the National Geographic Society, said: “It is proof of the vision of the Tristan da Cunha community that one of the smallest communities in the world can make the greatest contribution to global marine protection this year. We can all take inspiration from Tristan as the world begins a decade of work to protect 30% of the global ocean by 2030.

"The UK government also deserves great credit for fulfilling its 2016 Blue Belt commitment to protect at least four million square kilometers of ocean in its overseas territories by the end of 2020."

UK Environment Secretary Lord Goldsmith said: "We are sucking life out of the ocean at a terrible rate, so this new marine reserve is really a great conservation gain and an extremely important step in protecting the world's biodiversity and ecosystems."

“The islanders of Tristan da Cunha and this coalition of NGOs and foundations have done something extraordinary and deserve real gratitude and praise. This means that our fantastic Blue Belt program covers over 4 million square kilometers of protected ocean in the UK's overseas territories. "

The creation of the marine protection zone is only possible thanks to the far-sighted leadership of the Tristan da Cunha government and the support of an international partnership. The RSPB-led field work with the local community to enable their visionary decision-making worked with the UK Government's Blue Belt program, National Geographic Pristine Seas and the Coalition of the Great British Oceans. The British Antarctic Survey, the University of Plymouth, and the Natural History Museum provided important scientific assistance to the Tristan da Cunha government.

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