UK takes step forward in global marine protection

Uk coastline

More than half of the UK’s global waters are set to be within Marine Protected Areas, putting the UK at the forefront of calls to protect 30 per cent of the world’s ocean by 2030.

The UK Government has backed plans by Ascension Island to designate over 150,000 square miles of its waters as a fully protected ‘no-take’ Marine Protected Area (MPA) – closing the off-shore area to any fishing activity and safeguarding important marine habitats for future generations.

When protected, the new no-take zone around Ascension Island would bring the total percentage of MPAs in the UK’s territorial waters, Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to over 50%. This comes as Environment Secretary Michael Gove has reiterated his call for 30% of the world’s ocean to be protected by 2030 and called on other nations to follow the UK’s lead.

Responding to the announcement, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said:

“With a marine estate stretching across the globe, the UK is uniquely positioned to lead the way in protecting the world’s oceans and precious marine life.”

This progress towards fully protecting all of Ascension Island’s waters is an important step forward in expanding our Blue Belt and protecting a third of the world’s ocean by 2030. I hope countries around the world will follow suit.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said:

“Ascension Island’s plans are another step towards ensuring we protect the wonders of the sea for future generations.”

The UK is a global leader in marine conservation and we call on our friends and partners around the world to follow our lead and protect their oceans before it is too late.

The announcement comes just six months after the UK Government called for more than a third of the world’s ocean to be protected by 2030, trebling internationally-agreed targets for protected areas. As is the case now, MPAs will consist of a range of management measures.

Currently, global targets for marine protected areas are set by the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, with parties agreeing to protect 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020.

Ascension Island, one of the UK’s Overseas Territories, is of significant biodiversity value, home to some of the largest marlin in the world and one of the largest populations of green turtles.

UN Patron of the Oceans, Lewis Pugh, said:

“I’m delighted to hear that the UK has heeded our call to fully protect the waters around Ascension Island, a jewel in the Atlantic Ocean. Protecting 30% of the world’s oceans need not be a dream.”

The UK Government announced in 2016 that the Ascension Island Council had decided to close half of its waters to commercial fishing and today’s announcement goes one step further in protecting fish stocks and vital species. The UK Government will now work closely with the Ascension Island Council to take forward the designation.

It represents significant progress towards the government’s Blue Belt programme, an initiative to provide long term protection of more than four million square kilometres of marine environment across the UK Overseas Territories.

It builds on the UK’s global leadership in protecting the marine environment – with over 200,000 square miles of Britain’s coastline already protected, proposals recently launched for 41 new Marine Conservation Zones, and the creation of the Commonwealth Clean Ocean Alliance which the UK co-chairs with Vanuatu.

The Government will publish an international ocean strategy this year setting out further action to conserve and sustainably use the ocean.