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The waters around a remote British overseas territory in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean are to become one of the biggest marine sanctuaries in the world.
The government of Tristan da Cunha has declared a 687,000 square kilometre (265,000 square mile) marine protection zone in its waters – three times the size of the UK.
The new reserve will act as a no-take zone, meaning that fishing and other harmful activities will be banned, in an effort to protect the wildlife found on, and around, the chain of islands, including albatross, penguins, whales, sharks and seals.
It also means that the people on the islands, which are the most remote inhabited islands on the planet, will be overseeing the largest no-take zone in the Atlantic Ocean, and fourth largest marine reserve in the world, according to conservationists.
Tristan da Cunha’s protection zone becomes part of the UK’s “blue belt” of protected areas around overseas territories, which it monitors using satellite technology.
The sanctuary is supported by the local community and an international partnership, and will protect a mostly untouched “nature haven” to tens of millions of seabirds and other wildlife.
Sustainable fishing will be permitted in 10% of the local waters of the island for the community, while 90% of the area will be closed to activity.
It comes 25 years after Gough Island, which is part of the island group, was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site as home to unique wildlife.
Chief Islander James Glass says his community is committed to conservation, and that half of the land already has protected status.
“But the sea is our vital resource, for our economy and ultimately for our long-term survival.
“That’s why we’re fully protecting 90% of our waters – and we’re proud that we can play a key role in preserving the health of the oceans,” he said.
Beccy Speight, CEO of the RSPB, says the new protections will be a “jewel in the crown of UK marine protection”.
“Tristan da Cunha is a place like no other. The waters that surround this remote UK Overseas Territory are some of the richest in the world.
“Tens of millions of seabirds soar above the waves, penguins and seals cram on to the beaches, threatened sharks breed offshore, and mysterious whales feed in the deep-water canyons.
“From today, we can say all of this is protected,” she said.
UK Environment Minister Lord Goldsmith said: “We are hoovering life out of the ocean at an appalling rate, so this new marine protected area is really a huge conservation win and a critically important step in protecting the world’s biodiversity and ecosystems.
“It means our fantastic blue belt programme has over four million square kilometres (1.5 million square miles) of protected ocean around the UK Overseas Territories.”