Tiny, remote islands make huge waves for marine conservation

© Creative Commons/Rodrigo Argenton

A small island community in the middle of the South Atlantic just made a big splash for the health of the world’s oceans. 

The government of Tristan da Cunha — an archipelago 4,000 square kilometers (1,600 miles) west of South Africa and the most remote inhabited islands in the world — committed to protecting 90 percent of its territory’s waters, creating the largest marine protected area in the Atlantic. 

Roughly twice the size of the Great Barrier Reef, this protected area hosts an array of marine life, including seals, sharks and whales. The islands are home to one of the most important seabird breeding grounds on the planet, with populations numbering in the tens of millions. 

“Protecting the waters around Tristan da Cunha is not only about conserving biodiversity, it is about honoring the seafaring history of this community and their commitment to securing healthy and economically stable future for generations to come,” said ‘Aulani Wilhelm, who leads Conservation International’s Center for Oceans.

According to the Tristan da Cunha government, roughly 700,000 square kilometers (270,000 miles) of ocean will be closed to all human activity, while the remaining 10 percent will be set aside as a sustainable fishing area for the island’s 260 residents — who own and operate a small lobster fishery certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Through a new global partnership, the Blue Nature Alliance, Conservation International provided critical funding and crucial technical expertise that enabled this area to be protected at twice the size it would have been otherwise.

Experts say that Tristan da Cunha’s commitment to protect its waters will provide a major contribution to the global goal of protecting 30 percent of the world’s oceans — which scientists say is necessary to limit the marine impacts of climate change and prevent widespread extinctions of marine species. Currently, only 8 percent of the world’s oceans are protected. 

“We applaud the Tristan da Cunha community for their incredible leadership," said Wilhelm. "Their commitment to sustainably utilize 10 percent of their marine waters while setting aside 90 percent from extraction in service to the planet and humanity is nothing short of heroic. Large-ocean states and territories continue to take bold action to ensure the health of the ocean, and we hope their example inspires others to join the global effort to protect a third of our global ocean by 2030.”

 

The creation of this marine protected area was supported by the Tristan da Cunha government, the UK Government Blue Belt Programme, National Geographic Pristine Seas, the Great British Oceans Coalition, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Becht Family Charitable Trust, Wyss Foundation, Kaltroco and Don Quixote Foundation.

‘Aulani Wilhelm is the senior vice president of Conservation International's Center for Oceans. Kiley Price is a staff writer at Conservation International. Want to read more stories like this? Sign up for email updates here. Donate to Conservation International here.

Cover image: Tristan da Cunha (© Creative Commons/Rodrigo Argenton)

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