Analysis

New British Parliamentary Report Calls for Marine Reserves in UK Overseas Territories

The Pew Charitable Trusts welcomes a report issued today by the British Parliament's Environmental Audit Committee, which includes the recommendation that “…the FCO (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) must respond positively to the Pitcairn Islander's request to establish a fully protected Marine Protected Area around the Pitcairn Islands.”

The new report, “Sustainability in the UK Overseas Territories,” says the British government is failing to adequately protect the globally significant biodiversity of the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs), despite its international treaty commitments to protect these unique habitats and species. The recommendation goes on to say a marine reserve around Pitcairn “…would make a significant contribution to achieving the UN target to protect 10% of the world's oceans by 2020.”

For more than a year, Pew's Global Ocean Legacy project has worked in partnership with the residents of the Pitcairn Islands and the National Geographic Society in calling on the British government to declare the world's largest marine reserve in Pitcairn's vast Exclusive Economic Zone—over 830,000 square kilometres of near pristine waters.

“We welcome the report from the Environmental Audit Committee and hope that a decision to establish a fully protected marine reserve in Pitcairn will be made this year,” says Alistair Gammell, Global Ocean Legacy's UK Director. “The seas around Pitcairn are exceptional, having never been polluted or overfished, and form one natural complex and undisturbed mosaic where mature fish still play their proper role in the ecosystem and some of the best coral reefs in the world remain undamaged.”

Gammell adds that “Our proposal for full protection—with an exception for local traditional fishing by the islanders—is supported by scientists, conservationists, the Pitcairn Islanders themselves, and now by the Environmental Audit Committee. This is truly an environmental win-win. But if unprotected, these waters are left at risk of illegal fishing and other outside factors, which is why taking action now to protect these seas is so important and urgent.”

Environmental Audit Committee Chair Joan Walley MP says, “The natural environment in the Overseas Territories is incredibly diverse, but it is currently under-protected. That is ultimately a UK government responsibility. The UK government doesn't even know precisely what it is responsible for, because it has failed accurately to assess and catalogue those species and habitats.”

Walley adds that “During our inquiry, the UK government expressed vague aspirations to ‘cherish' the environment in the Overseas Territories, but it was unwilling to acknowledge or to address its responsibilities under United Nations treaties. Although it is prepared to exercise hard and soft power in relation to financial matters in the UKOTs, the UK government is apparently not prepared to exercise those powers to protect biodiversity and to promote environmental sustainability.”

The UK Overseas Territories encompass vast tracts of ocean, thousands of coral atolls, tropical forests, and a polar wilderness six times the size of the United Kingdom, containing:

  • 90 per cent of the biodiversity for which the UK is responsible.
  • At least 517 globally threatened species.
  • Many unique endemic species.
  • Undisturbed habitats of international significance.

The new parliamentary report outlines that biodiversity in the UKOTs is subject to immediate and significant threats, including invasive species, under-regulated development, and climate change.

Global Ocean Legacy also has projects in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and Tristan da Cunha, in the South Atlantic Ocean, which have also been mentioned specifically for marine protection in the report.

Read the full report at parliament.uk.

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