Time for pioneering ocean conservation in the UK Overseas Territories

Our planet is an ocean planet, and the ocean has been sending very clear signs that it is in urgent need of greater protection. The threats facing it are intensifying as climate change, habitat destruction and excessive and illegal fishing drive dramatic changes in marine ecosystems. With less than one percent of the ocean designated as fully protected, very few areas are safeguarded from these threats. 

Image from Virgin.com

The UK government has an opportunity to change this. The UK is responsible for the fifth largest area of ocean in the world, measuring 6.8 million square kilometers – twice the size of India and nearly 30 times the size of the UK. The British Government has the chance to establish some of the largest marine reserves in the world by creating 1.75 million square kilometres of effective fully protected marine networks in the Pitcairn Islands, Ascension Island and the South Sandwich Islands.

Why are these so important? Well, the Pitcairn Islands of the South Pacific are home to some of the most pristine seawaters and corals on Earth, as well as healthy populations of seabirds and marine species. The Pew Charitable Trusts have agreed to support the monitoring of the reserve in Pitcairn through the use of the technology they designed with the UK Satellite Applications Catapult.

Image by Andrew Lloyd

Ascension Island in the Atlantic is a green turtle mecca, as well as a hotspot for tuna, marlin and sharks. While the volcanic South Sandwich Islands – uninhabited by humans – is home to the largest colony of chinstrap penguins in the world and significant whale populations.

As the Ocean Elders have written: “Our planet is an ocean planet, and the global ocean has been sending very clear signs that it is in urgent need of greater protection. The threats facing the ocean such as overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, and acidification are intensifying and driving dramatic changes in marine ecosystems. With less than one percent of the ocean designated as fully protected, very few areas are safeguarded from these threats. Large and fully protected areas are critical in maintaining the ocean’s overall health and resilience, both within country waters and in the high seas.”

My friend and fellow Ocean Elder Sylvia Earle, and a number of our friends in the ocean conservation community, have been working tirelessly on the research and design of these proposals to create these ocean sanctuaries. I have spoken with David Cameron and his team about this issue. We have made it clear that this is an extremely important issue for the British government to take a lead on and make a historic statement. 

Image from Worldwide Voyage

I am confident they will heed the call of countless individuals and organizations – including myself and the Ocean Elders – and take the necessary action to make the UK a pioneer in ocean conservation.

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