Out of sight doesn’t always mean out of your head. Though Tristan da Cunha is the most distant inhabited chain of islands on earth, its status as an unspoiled sanctuary for wildlife has not gone unnoticed. Thanks to the international collaboration * between governments, NGOs and the local islanders, initiated by the Tristan da Cunha government and the RSPB (BirdLife in Great Britain), a marine protection zone that is almost three times the size of Great Britain was established today. 90% of the sea area covers 687,247 km2 of land and sea and will be a complete “no-take zone” in which fishing and other resource activities are strictly limited.
Beccy Speight, Executive Director of the RSPB said, “This is a story that has been two decades in development, from the beginning of a conservation partnership by the RSPB and the Tristan da Cunha government to the creation of this globally important protected area. Tristan’s new marine protection zone will be the largest restricted area in the Atlantic. “
“Tristan da Cunha is a place like no other. The waters surrounding this remote British overseas territory are some of the richest in the world. Dozens of millions of sea birds soar over the waves, penguins and seals crowd the beaches, endangered sharks breed off the coast and mysterious whales feed in the deep water canyons. From today onwards we have massively intensified our efforts to keep this part of the world untouched for future generations. “
An impressive 25 species of seabirds breed in this isolated archipelago, four of which are unique on the islands and threatened worldwide: the Tristan albatross Diomedea dabbenena (critically endangered), the Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross Thalassarche chlororhynchos and the Atlantic petrel Pterodroma incert (both) endangered ) and the petrel Procellaria obscicillata (endangered). This also includes the world heritage site of Gough Island: a well-known albatross stronghold and arguably one of the most important sea bird islands in the world, on which an extensive restoration program to remove invasive “mega-mice” is currently being carried out.
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All of this would not have been possible without the support and cooperation of the Tristan Islanders themselves, who are proud to take on a pioneering role as nature guards in the relatively unprotected Atlantic. James Glass, Chief Islander of Tristan da Cunha, said: “Our life on Tristan da Cunha is always based on our relationship with the sea and that continues to this day. The Tristan community is intensely committed to nature conservation: On land, we have already declared protection status for more than half of our territory. But the sea is our vital resource, for our economy and ultimately for our long-term survival. That’s why we fully protect 90% of our waters – and we pride ourselves on the key role we can play in keeping the oceans healthy. “
In a world full of environmental anxiety, this is one of the most inspiring environmental announcements of the year. Not only will this have a positive impact on the ecosystem and the local community, but also the health of the entire planet for future generations. A recent study found that a ban on fishing in 5 percent or more of the ocean would increase global fishing by at least 20 percent in the future. In addition, the nature reserve ties in with the global goal of protecting 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 in order to cope with the climate and biodiversity crisis.
Tristan da Cunha is 2,400 km from the nearest land. It takes longer to sail there from Cape Town than Apollo 11 to reach the moon. But despite its remoteness, today’s news is an asset to all of us.
* The creation of the marine protection zone is only possible thanks to the far-sighted leadership of the Tristan da Cunha government and the support of an international partnership. The RSPB led the field work with the local community to enable their visionary decisions and worked with the UK Government’s Blue Belt program, National Geographic Pristine Seas and the Coalition of the Great British Oceans. The British Antarctic Survey, the University of Plymouth, and the Natural History Museum provided important scientific assistance to the Tristan da Cunha government.