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Protection for UK waters

Over 2,000,000 square kilometres of UK ocean are to be protected
Protection for UK waters

The UK and several UK Overseas Territory governments have jointly announced that over two million square kilometres of British waters will be protected for future generations.

This far-reaching agreement, announced at the Our Oceans conference in Washington D.C., recognises the global importance of our marine wildlife.

’World-leading vision’

The commitment will protect these ocean areas from unsustainable and pirate fishing, damaging deep-sea mining and other activities that could be deadly or disruptive for Nature. It will also help the world meet its global target of protecting 10% of the marine environment by 2020.

‘This is simply enormous and shows world-leading vision. In the week where 53 organisations came together to launch The State of Nature report which showed continuing declines for UK wildlife, the Government and those of our Overseas Territories have now shown fantastic ambition in recognising that we need to protect our rich oceans and the amazing wildlife they hold.’

RSPB’s Head of UK Overseas Territories

Diverse majesty of UK oceans

When taking all 14 of its Overseas Territories into account, the UK is responsible for the fifth-largest area of ocean in the world. Measuring 6.8 million square kilometres, it’s more than twice the size of India and nearly 30 times the size of the UK itself.

This gives the Overseas Territories and the UK a unique opportunity for global leadership in meeting UN Sustainable Development Goal 14: to conserve 10% of the ocean by 2020.

‘We often think of the UK only as a collection of small islands in the North Atlantic. This makes it hard to imagine that the UK Overseas Territories contain such an incredible variety of life in all shapes and sizes. From vast coral reefs to penguin pull-outs, mysterious deep-sea canyons to huge seabird colonies, these iconic sites represent the full diverse majesty of our oceans and give us a unique ability to help protect them.’

RSPB’s Head of UK Overseas Territories

Some 94% of unique British wildlife exists in these Territories, including more penguins than any other nations on earth and the world’s largest coral atoll.

Full protection

The UK Overseas Territory governments announcing fully protected marine reserves are:

Pitcairn islands
836,000km² around the Pitcairn islands in the south Pacific has now been designated as a fully protected marine reserve. This vast archipelago includes Henderson Island, a UK World Heritage Site. Over 1,200 marine species have been recorded around Pitcairn, including whales and dolphins, 365 species of fish, turtles, seabirds and corals. With the designation of the marine reserve, Pitcairn’s waters will become protected from overfishing and illegal pirate fishing, as well as deep-sea mining exploration, giving these seas more resilience to pollution and climate change.

Ascension Island
At least 220,000km² around Ascension Island in the south Atlantic will be designated a fully-protected marine reserve by 2019. This will be the first large-scale no-take zone anywhere in the Atlantic. The island is one of the most important tropical seabird breeding sites in the world, and also home to the second-biggest green turtle nesting site in the Atlantic, threatened tuna and record-breaking marlin. The huge fish still found in Ascension’s waters have earned it the nickname of the Jurassic Park of the Atlantic.

Increased protection

Two Overseas Territories have also announced increased levels of protection, to be implemented with UK government support:

St Helena
444,000km² around St Helena in the south Atlantic 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.

Tristan da Cunha
754,000km² of extremely rich waters around Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic will be safeguarded through 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 is incredibly proud of its marine environment, obtaining the majority of its income from their sustainability-certified lobster fishery. Tristan da Cunha’s waters are filled with penguins, whales, dolphins and sharks, whilst the offshore islands include the UK World Heritage of Gough Island, described by the IUCN as ‘arguably the most important seabird island in the world’

Click here to find out more about the Great British Oceans coalition.

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