Tristan da Cunha Marine Protection Announcement – A local commitment with global implications

Today, the people of Tristan da Cunha made a historic commitment to ocean conservation. Standing alone in the South Atlantic, this remote group of British islands is home to the world’s most isolated community, with some 260 people living almost 2,800 kilometres west of the nearest mainland city, Cape Town. The people of Tristan da Cunha have committed to fully protecting over 687,000 km2 of marine habitat – an area nearly three times the size of the United Kingdom. The newly established Marine Conservation Zone encompasses a huge body of water surrounding the archipelago’s four islands and is now the fourth largest fully protected marine area on the planet. This ambitious decision by the Tristan da Cunha Island Council shows how local leadership to develop a sustainable and regenerative blue economy can make a significant contribution towards the science-based global target to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030.

Through my role as UNCTAD Special Adviser for the Blue Economy and my work driving the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, I’ve come to appreciate how bold conservation actions that protect and restore marine biodiversity can also support sustainable island economies. There is a symbiosis to this relationship – effectively managed marine protections support the self-sufficiency of coastal communities by enhancing sustainable economies, whilst the same coastal communities underpin long-term conservation efforts by not overexploiting local resources.

Tristan da Cunha’s marine protection commitment is the perfect example of how these dual objectives of conservation and economic sustainability can be achieved. The Island Council has fully protected 90% of their exclusive economic zone, offering a refuge for rare whale species like the Shepherd beaked whale, over three quarters of the world’s endangered northern rockhopper penguins, and some of the most important seabird colonies in the world, including critically endangered albatrosses. At the same time, the designation will allow the island’s sustainably certified lobster fishery, which provides local employment and represents a significant proportion of island revenues, to continue to operate. In fact, the marine protections will help local lobster populations continue to thrive and ensure the long-term success of this local fishery. By matching marine conservation with the sustainable use of resources, the Tristan da Cunha community has provided a blueprint for the future of ocean management.

It is my hope that other countries and institutions like the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, which manages the resources in the Southern Ocean surrounding Antarctica, will follow Tristan da Cunha’s example. While scientists and world leaders from over 30 countries have coalesced around increasing the global target for marine protection from 10% to at least 30% by 2030, few governments have taken significant action to achieve this mission. According to figures from the Marine Conservation Institute, the proportion of highly protected marine habitat – the level of conservation action necessary to adequately restore ecosystems from decades of degradation by human activity – totals 2.6% of the global ocean. As the global economy seeks resilience from a pandemic, it is more important than ever to preserve our natural capital and build enduring blue economies.

Through my partnership with the Pew Charitable Trusts, I have been actively involved in supporting marine protection efforts in the UK Overseas Territories for almost a decade, including projects on Tristan da Cunha. The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project is committed to helping the Tristanians actively manage these newly protected waters by supporting the Island Council’s efforts to deliver long-term implementation projects.

These initiatives include developing a partnership with Global Fishing Watch to support the planning and management of effective marine protections by harnessing near real-time, open-source and interactive data to evaluate ocean conditions, marine biology, and human activity, such as fishing.

I offer my sincere congratulations to the Tristan da Cunha Island Council for their bold and impactful announcement. This ambitious local decision to protect the archipelago’s waters should inspire other countries to show similar leadership and deliver the protections needed for a healthy and resilient ocean.

→ See all news