Image ©Paul Colley, Ascension Island
The Conservative party would give protected status to a larger area of the ocean than any other country in the world if it were to form the next government.
The Conservatives would designate a further protected area at Ascension Island in the Atlantic, subject to the agreement of the local population, in addition to the reserve around Pitcairn announced in the Budget.
If that protected area took up all or the most part of the territorial waters of Ascension, as is likely, Britain’s total marine protected area would exceed that of the United States.
In addition, the Conservatives commit to a process of creating a “Blue Belt” around the rest of the 14 UK Overseas Territories subject to local support and environmental need. It would also complete the proposed network of marine conservation zones around the English coast, initially envisaged as a total of 127.
Regardless of who wins the Election on 7 May, this announcement is likely to set the scale of ambition for any UK government and, if acted upon, would amount to a huge step forward for marine environmental protection.
BLUE, as a member of the Great British Coalition, has been campaigning strenuously for commitment to protect the UK overseas territories, including Ascension, which is a green turtle mecca and one of the last remaining hotspots for Atlantic megafauna such as tuna, marlin and shark.
BLUE would like to thank its supporters for enabling us to carry out this campaign, which has reaped such rewards in a relatively short time. We cannot let up, as we must ensure that the next government, whoever it may be, carries out this commitment. But today is an exciting day for marine conservation.
Following the Conservative manifesto, there have been fish-friendly proposals by the Greens and the Lib Dems. UKIP has nothing on marine conservation – other than its usual promise to get out of the Common Fisheries Policy. Labour had nothing marine in its manifesto on Monday, but some have indicated it might make a statement on the subject next week.
The Greens propose to expand the UK’s network of Marine Conservation Zones, propose to play their part in creating a South Atlantic reserve – thought to mean the South Sandwich islands and perhaps Ascension. They also say they would make the uninhabited Overseas Territories – such as South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands comply with the UN Biodiversity treaty which commits Britain to protecting 10 per cent of its sea area by 2020.
The Lib Dems propose to create an ecologically coherent network of reserves with appropriate management by 2020. They propose a million kilometre square South Atlantic marine reserve – thought to mean Ascension and the South Sandwich Islands off South Georgia.
The Lib Dems also have inventive proposals for the creation of a marine nature reserve in the Arctic – location unknown – and a ban on EU vessels fishing in areas exposed by melting ice.
Charles Clover, BLUE’s chairman says: “The manifestos have advanced the cause of marine conservation by some way and the Conservative commitment, in particular, sets the bar high for any future government as it would be likely to result in a larger total protected area than the United States created with Obama’s announcement of a reserve around the Pacific Remote Islands last year.
“The UK has an enormous marine estate – 27 times its land area – spread across the world and with that comes an enormous responsibility to rule its waves in an enlightened way. The pressure is now on for the next government, whoever that may be, to live up to these several remarkable proposals for protection in the Overseas Territories and around the British coast.”
Here is a handy crib to the exact wording of the manifestos on marine conservation:
Marine Protection p55
We will create a ‘Blue Belt’ to protect precious marine habitats
Earlier this year we announced the creation of a new Marine Protected Area around the Pitcairn Islands – the largest protected area of sea in the world. We will now go even further, creating a Blue Belt around the UK’s 14 Overseas Territories, subject to local support and environmental need. We will designate a further protected area at Ascension Island, subject to the views of the local community. And, off our own coasts, we will complete the network of Marine Conservation Zones that we have already started, to create a UK Blue Belt of protected sites.
Marine Protection p14
Work with local communities, scientists and conservation groups to expand the UK’s network of Marine Conservation Zones to create areas specifically for the protection of mobile species as well as reference areas off limits to fishing and other extractive activities.
Play our part in creating a Southern Atlantic Reserve and champion internationally the protection of the Arctic.
Because 94% of the biodiversity for which the UK is responsible is found in our Overseas Territories, ensure that conservation of the environment of the Overseas Territories, including their marine areas, is funded to a level equal to their global significance. We would also immediately extend ratification of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity to all uninhabited territories, and work with territory governments to agree a timeline for ratification of the Convention in all inhabited territories.
Designate an ecologically coherent network of marine protected areas with appropriate management by 2020
Create a one million square kilometre southern Atlantic Ocean reserve.
Push for the creation of a marine nature reserve in the Arctic Ocean, promote the highest possible environmental standards for UK companies operating in the region and press for a ban on EU-flagged vessels undertaking industrial fishing in the previously unfished areas of the Arctic.