A combined area of UK ocean bigger than Germany and France will be placed in fully-protected marine reserves (1.05 million km²)
• Further 1.1 million km² to be placed under sustainable-use protections
• Turtles, seabirds, whales and sharks will all benefit from world-leading joint announcement by government at Our Oceans conference
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 Our Oceans conference in Washington D.C. by the UK and UK Overseas Territory governments, recognises the global importance of our marine wildlife. This 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, plus help the world meet its global target of protecting 10% of the marine environment by 2020.
Jonathan Hall, RSPB's Head of UK Overseas Territories, said: "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."
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, over 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. Some 94 per cent of unique British wildlife exists in these Territories, including more penguins than any other nations on earth, and the world's largest coral atoll.
The UK Overseas Territory Governments announcing fully protected marine reserves are:
• 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.
• 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.
Two Overseas Territories have also announced increased levels of protection, to be implemented with UK Government support:
• 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.
• 754,000km² of extremely rich waters around Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic will be safeguarded via a protection regime by 2020. This process will be lead by the 270-person Tristan community who call this dormant volcano, the most remote inhabited island in the world, their home. The community are incredibly proud of their marine environment, obtaining the majority of their 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'.
The RSPB has been working with Overseas Territory Governments for many years to help protect their waters, as well as with the five other NGO members of the Great British Oceans coalition to bring the UK Government's 'Blue Belt' vision to reality.
"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.
"Today's announcements by the UK Overseas Territory and UK governments give a long-term future to these amazing places, and to the ocean upon which we all depend." concluded Hall.