In his Spring Statement, Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond announced that the UK government will support the call from the Ascension Island Council to protect 100 per cent of Ascension’s waters, creating the largest fully protected marine reserve in the Atlantic.
Until this announcement, the government had pledged to protect “at least 50 per cent” of Ascension waters this year. The other half was fished for tuna by some of the world’s most rapacious long line fleets mainly from Taiwan, Japan and China with allegations of safety and human rights abuses.
The long-line tuna fleets were known to have a bycatch of sharks, turtles and seabirds.
Charles Clover, executive director, Blue Marine Foundation, said: “We congratulate the Chancellor for making an announcement of global significance in supporting the Ascension Island Council’s wonderful and far-sighted decision to create the largest fully protected marine reserve in the Atlantic.
“The reserve will give lasting protection to one of the last wild places left in the ocean, a hotspot for green turtles, sharks, swordfish, tuna and some of the world’s largest recorded marlin.
“The island proposes to ban fishing across the whole of Ascension island’s waters, an area of nearly 443,000 sq kilometres, an area almost twice the size of the UK. Recreational and subsistence fishing will be allowed in a coastal zone a few kilometres wide.”
Ascension has its own endemic frigatebird, eleven endemic fish species including the resplendent angelfish, vast colonies of sooty or “wideawake” terns, and the second largest breeding colony of green turtles in the Atlantic.
Highly migratory yellowfin tuna have been known to spend as much as two thirds of the year in Ascension waters, so the creation of a refuge is likely to have benefits for declining stocks across the Atlantic.
When the first half of Ascension waters was proposed as a marine reserve in 2016, more rigorous fisheries management and human rights standards were imposed on the tuna fleets and the number of licences sold dropped to no more than two £20,000 licences a year.
Income from science and foundations, however, has increased and this year a major donor to the Blue Marine Foundation undertook to create a £2m endowment fund to support the isolated Ascension island community in their inspirational decision to create a marine reserve in 100% of the island’s waters which will protect some of the UK’s most important biodiversity.
Charles Clover added: “We look forward to the government confirming its extension of the £2million a year funding for the whole Blue Belt programme to 2022, which will protect 4 million square kilometres of some of the world’s most precious places at a cost of 50p per sq km per year.”
The designation will take the amount of UK and Overseas Territories waters fully protected to over 32 per cent.