The British Overseas Territory of Ascension Island is set to become a marine reserve almost as big as the UK, the British government has announced. Using a £300,000 grant from the Bacon Foundation, the UK government will close 52.6% of the south Atlantic island's waters to fishing. In the rest of the waters there will be a monitored tuna fishery.
Ascension has been at the frontiers of science since Charles Darwin went there in the 19th Century, said Charles Clover, chairman of the Blue Marine Foundation -- the group that will administer the donation.
It is entirely appropriate that it is now at the centre of a great scientific effort to design the Atlantic's largest marine reserve.
Ascension Island is home to one of the world's largest green turtle populations, and some of the biggest marlin. It also has a large colony of tropical seabirds and a unique frigate bird.
The Island's government will monitor the reserve using satellite imaging and patrol vessels. It will be looking out for illegal shark finning and fishing of endangered shark species. It will require fishing vessels to use de-hookers and dip nets to free any sharks, turtles and seabirds that are caught by accident.
We will continually monitor the fishery, examining any new scientific evidence for particular areas or species which need further protection to ensure strong environmental governance of our waters, said Judith Brown, director of fisheries and marine conservation at the Ascension Island government.
This latest marine reserve brings the total of marine conservation zones to two percent of the ocean. But researchers have recommended that as much as 30% of the ocean be protected if we are to preserve species and expand fish stocks.
The conservation of Ascension Island comes alongside a greater commitment to marine conservation from governments across the world. Last year marine parks were designated at Palau in the North Pacific, Easter Island and Pitcairn in the South Pacific, and the Kermadec islands off New Zealand.
The Conservative Party promised it would create a blue belt of protected ocean in its 2015 manifesto. The official designation of the island as a marine reserve is expected to come in 2017.