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Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary

Green turtle digging

Image: Ascension Conservation Department

The UK Overseas Territory of Ascension Island lies 1,000 miles from the coast of west Africa in the tropical Atlantic ocean. It’s one of 50 marine areas in the world which have been highlighted as 'Hope Spots' - areas critical to the future health of the world’s oceans. 

Ascension is home to the second largest green turtle nesting site in the Atlantic. Unique fish species, such as the resplendent angelfish and marmalade razorfish, swim in the waters close to the shore; further out, important populations of threatened tuna stocks – shared with developing West African nations – are found. 

Bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales swim inshore, and huge, record-breaking marlins patrol the deeper waters. Above water, myriads of seabirds depend on ocean predators to drive bait fish to the surface in order to feed. They nest on Ascension in such numbers that it is one of the most important tropical seabird sites in the world. 

From the vivid myriad of tropical fish, the sheer scale of goliath groupers, to the endurance and grace of hawksbill and leatherback turtles, Ascension’s wildlife represents a unique mix of eastern and western Atlantic biodiversity. 

And its deep offshore area, incorporating vast underwater volcanoes and part of the Mid-Atlantic rift valley, likely holds significant and as yet unknown deep sea life – buried treasure just waiting to be discovered.

Threatened by a short-term and poorly-managed industrial Taiwanese fishery from 2010-2013, the management of the rich waters of Ascension Island is currently being assessed. The 800 residents on the island cannot afford to protect a vast marine area larger than Germany themselves however- support from the UK Government is required.

Given Ascension's globally significant marine biodiversity, the RSPB is calling for the creation of an Ocean Sanctuary around the island to protect its rich waters. This is one of the only opportunities for a large-scale and fully-protected marine protected area anywhere in the tropical Atlantic. Unlike the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the neglected Atlantic currently has no large and fully-protected marine reserves

Project objectives

  • Support establishment and management of an Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary- the largest fully-protected marine reserve in the neglected Atlantic

Progress so far

  • RSPB campaigning lead to the Ascension Island Government closing the uncontrolled commercial fishery at the end of 2013.
  • The Ascension Island Government has now initiated a review of all management options for the island's maritime zone.
  • The Conservative Party 2015 election manifesto committed to creating a marine protected area at Ascension, subject to the views of the local community

Work planned or underway

The Ascension Island Government closed the short-lived and poorly-managed industrial Taiwanese fishery at the end of 2013. A review of management options for the island's maritime zone is now underway.

The RSPB is working to avoid the reopening of this socially and financially unnecessary fishery and instead seize the unique opportunity to safeguard the tropical Atlantic for the wildlife and people which depend upon this ocean.



The Offshore Marine Environment of Ascension Island

The Offshore Marine Environment of Ascension Island

2.46Mb, PDF

A scientific review and conservation status assessment of the waters surrounding Ascension Island.

Date: 2 March 2016


Who to contact

Jonathan Hall
Head of UK Overseas Terrritories Unit