Trust Magazine

Expanded Protections for a Biological Hot Spot


In this Issue:

  • Spring 2024
  • A Change to Federal Methadone Regulations
  • A Journey to Earth’s Last Great Wilderness
  • Art With a View on History
  • Expanded Protections for a Biological Hot Spot
  • Honduras’ Coastal Wetlands
  • Insights on What Communities Need to Thrive
  • Majorities Say Social Media Is Good for Democracy
  • Americans Say Officials Should Avoid Heated or Aggressive Speech
  • Return on Investment
  • The Digital Divide
  • The High Cost of Putting a Roof Over Your Head
  • The Pantanal in South America
  • Tribal Nations First Ocean and Coastal Protections in U.S.
  • What Does Being Spiritual Mean?
  • View All Other Issues
Expanded Protections for a Biological Hot Spot
A colony of penguins—including macaroni penguins, identifiable by their bright-yellow crest feathers—cavorts on Zavodovski Island, which is home to several species of these aquatic flightless birds.
MZPHOTO.CZ Shutterstock

On a map they may appear as a collection of remote and rocky outcrops at the bottom of the world, but up close South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are teeming with wildlife, as are the frigid and nutrient-dense southern Atlantic Ocean waters surrounding them. A deluge of whales, seals, and birds—tens of millions of them, including the world’s largest penguin colony of 1 million breeding pairs of chinstrap penguins on Zavodovski Island—floods the region, a biological hot spot supporting one of Earth’s largest and most varied aggregations of animals. 

To recognize the area’s significance, on Feb. 26 the U.K. and local governments announced a vast expansion of the marine protected area (MPA) around these islands, adding 64,000 square miles (166,000 square kilometers) of full protections to this part of the southern Atlantic. The decision, which was reached after a five-year scientific review of the MPA, was announced at London’s Blue Belt symposium; it brings the entirety of the MPA around the islands boasting full marine protections—meaning no extractive or destructive activities are allowed—to 173,000 square miles (450,000 square kilometers). This will forever safeguard the area’s important whale migration routes and penguin foraging habitat from human activities such as fishing and tourism.

Through this commitment, the U.K. government and its overseas territories have once again illustrated global leadership in marine conservation. Five huge expanses of water under U.K. jurisdiction, also including Pitcairn and Tristan da Cunha, each now boast over 30% of their waters under full legal protection—a benchmark in effective marine conservation.  

The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, a partnership with philanthropist and ocean advocate Dona Bertarelli, made key contributions to the review process through targeted communications and by sponsoring science detailing the return of baleen whales and the regional impacts of climate change. The project took this action as a member of the Great Blue Ocean coalition in recognition of the region’s global importance and abundance of wildlife. The coalition also includes the Blue Marine Foundation, Greenpeace UK, the Marine Conservation Society, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Zoological Society of London. This work was also supported by the Blue Nature Alliance, Bloomberg Ocean Initiative, Oceans 5 (which is a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors), and Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

The area is home to most of the world’s Antarctic fur seals, about half of all southern elephant seals, an array of albatross species, and a host of cetaceans—including sei whales, fin whales, minke whales, blue whales, sperm whales, and southern right whales. In addition, these waters are an important bellwether for analyzing the effects of climate change, and full protection supports a critical scientific analysis of the effects from a changing climate not only in these waters, but also in the wider Southern Ocean region stretching to Antarctica.

“Amid the dual threats of climate change and biodiversity loss, expanded protections in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are a pivotal step toward safeguarding a global wildlife hot spot,” said Johnny Briggs, who leads the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project’s work in U.K. waters.

The decision marks important progress. “The health of our planet and its people is inextricably linked to the health of our oceans,” said Dona Bertarelli. “This commitment demonstrates huge foresight and ambition—applying a precautionary approach to conservation at a time of increasing environmental degradation and commercial interest in the Southern Ocean. By taking decisive action, the U.K. is setting a bold example for the world by committing to highly protect over 30% of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, safeguarding the essential ecosystems that sustain us all.”

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