Joan Edwards

‘The announcement of an MPA around Ascension Island is great news – but waters closer to home need protection too

The New Year got off to a great start with the UK Government’s announcement that it would designate an MPA almost the size of the UK in the waters around Ascension Island.

One of 14 British Overseas Territories around the world, Ascension Island is a tiny dot of volcanic rock located almost slap bang in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. Most famous for its huge nesting colonies of Green Turtles, the island’s underwater environment is unique in the world. Shoals of blackfish – a kind of Triggerfish – swarm close to shore, alongside massive Moray eels, juvenile Hawksbill turtles and endemic fish found only here and on “nearby” (well, 800 miles away!) St Helena. Just a few hundred metres offshore begins open ocean, home to yellowfin tuna, sailfish and majestic Marlin. Even humpback whales and the odd whale shark are sighted passing by. This MPA will protect this unique assemblage when it is formally designated in 2017.

We warmly welcome the current Government’s commitment to designating a “blue belt” around our territories, but we must ensure that vast designations overseas do not distract from finishing the job at home. Back in 2009, the Government committed to designating an ecologically coherent network of MPAs in UK seas – and progress is being made. Northern Ireland are currently consulting on 4 MCZs around their coast and Scotland have made great strides in both the designation and management of their inshore MPAs, with further sites for mobile species expected to be consulted upon later this year. Here in England, we are on tenterhooks awaiting the outcome of a public consultation on the designation of 23 MCZs in English and Secretary of State Waters (expected imminently!).’

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