On 4th January 2016, the UK government announced that Ascension Island, which lies 8 degrees south of the Equator and 150 km west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, is due to become the UK’s latest Marine Nature Reserve. The reserve totals 234,291 sq km, slightly less than the size of the United Kingdom. It could be ready for formal designation as soon as 2017, once further data have been collected and analysed.
The idea of a marine reserve around the island has been promoted by the Great British Oceans campaign for a number of years. The intention at the moment is to have the northern half of a ‘doughnut’-shaped MPA open to licensed commercial tuna fishing, with the southern half totally protected. Inshore fishing (angling) would be allowed to continue within a small inner ring around the island.
The campaign to have Ascension as a marine reserve has been spearheaded by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), who have long championed the conservation merits of protecting the area. Not only are there internationally important seabird populations on the island, but there are also world-renown nesting colonies of green turtles, visiting humpback whales and several species of oceanic sharks.
During the summer of 2015, Robert Irving was commissioned by the RSPB to write a report assessing the scientific and conservation importance of Ascension’s offshore marine environment. This report has been used as evidence by RSPB and others to show how important the island’s waters are for marine life. To download a copy of the report, go to the RSPB’s project pages here, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and click on the pdf entitled “The Offshore Marine Environment of Ascension Island”.
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