01.03.2016 LONDON, ENGLAND – The British Government is to create a marine reserve of 234,291km2, slightly less than the size of the United Kingdom, in the waters of Ascension Island in the Atlantic, as the result of a grant of £300,000 from the Bacon Foundation.
The money will be used to close an area of just over half Ascension’s waters to fishing, police a tuna fishery in line with the best international standards in the other half, and to scope the final boundaries of a marine reserve which could be declared, subject to local agreement, as soon as 2017.
The grant, which will be administered by the Blue Marine Foundation for the Ascension Island Government, will enable the protection of waters described as a “hope spot” with high marine biodiversity by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
The waters have a host of extraordinary species including some of the largest marlin in the world, one of the largest populations of green turtles, large colonies of tropical seabirds and the island’s own unique frigate bird.
James Duddridge, the Minister for the UK Overseas Territories, said: “The UK Government is particularly grateful to the Bacon Foundation for providing £300,000 to cover costs of enforcement over the coming fishing season and to contribute to surveillance, science and management for the next 18 months.
“This will aid the Ascension Island Government in identifying and securing the future size and shape of a fully protected marine reserve in at least 50 per cent of Ascension’s maritime zone. This reserve could be ready for formal designation as soon as 2017, once further scientific data has been collected and analysed.”
Dr Judith Brown, director of fisheries and conservation, Ascension Island Government, said: “Ascension Island Government is committed to the sustainable and professional management of our maritime zone, making sure that environmental considerations are at the heart of fisheries management. The closure of half the zone forms an important step in developing an effective long-term strategy for a sustainably managed fishery alongside a protected area.
“We will continually monitor the fishery, examining any new scientific evidence for particular areas or species which need further protection to ensure strong environmental governance of our waters. The economic benefit from the fishery provides a much needed income for the Island and this donation from the Bacon Foundation through Blue Marine will help fund the necessary enforcement regime to protect the closed area from illegal fishing.”
Louis Bacon commented: “We applaud the British government’s commitment to creating this massive marine reserve in the waters of Ascension Island, and we are happy to partner with the government to support this important initiative. Ascension Island has rich marine biodiversity, with globally important nesting areas for green turtles, internationally significant seabird colonies and several inshore marine species found nowhere else on earth. Working with the British government and the people of Ascension Island, we want to help protect the waters from Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, allow for monitoring of the licensed fleet for compliance and advancing scientific understanding of this unique place.”
The Great British Oceans coalition, which includes the Blue Marine Foundation and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, has been campaigning since September 2014 for the designation of all or part of Ascension’s waters as a marine reserve. The British government has already said that it will create a marine reserve around the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific. It has also promised, in its manifesto, to create a “Blue belt” around other Overseas Territories, and a reserve around Ascension, subject to local agreement.
Charles Clover, Executive Chairman of the Blue Marine Foundation, said: “We would like to thank The Bacon Foundation for their generosity and vision in enabling the eventual creation of a marine reserve nearly the size of the UK. Ascension has been at the frontiers of science since Charles Darwin went there in the 19th century, so it is entirely appropriate that it is now at the centre of a great scientific effort to design the Atlantic’s largest marine reserve. It also has the highest biodiversity of the biggest fully protected marine reserves declared or proposed so far, in the UK Overseas Territories, ie Chagos and Pitcairn, if you look at ‘primary production’ a proxy used by the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us project. ”
About Blue Marine FoundationFounded as a result of the popular success of the 2009 film, The End of the Line, based on Charles Clover’s book of that name, the Foundation took its first step by enabling the creation of the largest no-take marine reserve in the world, when the then British government was facing acute spending restraints. Since then it has enabled the creation of an 1100 sq. km reserve in Turneffe Atoll, Belize; funded a joint project between fishermen and conservationists in Lyme Bay on England’s south coast; and lobbied for the creation of marine reserves around the UK Overseas Territories, something that found its way into the 2015 Conservative party manifesto as the “blue belts” commitment.