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British Government Unveils Plan To Develop Marine Reserve Almost The Same Size Of UK

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The British government, together with Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE) and Ascension Island Government (AIG) announced its plans of developing a marine reserve that is almost the same size as the UK's.

The plan is to create a reserve that is about 234,291 square kilometers around Ascension Island in the Atlantic Ocean. Through the said project, authorities will close down 52.6 percent of Ascension's waters to fishing. They will monitor and strictly implement regulations in the closed section through satellite data and patrol boats.

For the remaining 47.4 percent of the waters, officials will apply the gold standards in monitoring a tuna fishery and perform a scientific investigation to finalize the boundaries of a marine reserve, subject to local concurrence, by 2017.

"With the creation of a marine reserve, Ascension will be performing a significant service for the biodiversity of the whole Atlantic," says Charles Clover, the Executive Chairman of BLUE. He also urges other UK and U.S. leaders to recognize the importance of this project and help Ascension Island in its new role as protector of a wide and less-exploited body of water.

Bacon's Funding

Bacon Foundation has pledged £300,000 or about $439,900 to create the marine reserve. BLUE said the grant will help enforce the boundary limits and ensure that the waters are protected entirely.

UK Overseas Territories Minister James Duddridge said the government is thankful to Bacon Foundation for giving the said donation, which will also be used to perform interventions such as surveillance and overall management of the site for the next 18 months.

Duddridge also said that the money can help the Ascension Island Government to determine and secure the future size and shape of the marine reserve.

Protection Measures

The authorities plan to implement the "belt and braces" strategy as the main protective measure for the area. Such intervention will help guarantee that the most efficient arrest of illegal unreported and unregulated vessels will take place.

The satellite data that they intend to use as part of their monitoring program will come from Oxford University and satellite intelligence firm called Catapult. As for the patrol vessels, it will navigate throughout the island - both in the restricted and unrestricted areas - to closely monitor the waters.

Fishing Still Allowed On Select Species

Amid the surge of protective plans, fishing in Ascension Island will not be completely banned. Authorities say they will still allow the tuna industry, which is mainly composed of Taiwanese longline vessels, to continue operations. Fishermen, however, must follow tight regulations.

Tuna fishing will not be restricted simply because the Ascension Island Government lives on issuing tuna fishing licenses. A big chunk of its revenue comes from this industry and for this, they cannot just cancel one of its main monetary sources.

Tuna is said to be very profitable. In fact, one tuna was sold for $118,000 in Japan on Monday, Jan. 4. The Japanese people are said to eat about 80 percent of all bluefin tuna caught in the world. The stocks have plummeted across the Pacific, Atlantic and Southern oceans in the last 15 years amid overfishing. Truly, the demand for this fish is on point.

Despite allowing commercial fishing in the northern part of the island, authorities will still uphold complete ban on shark finning and other vulnerable sharks and other species. For this, they will necessitate vessels to carry on board de-hookers and dip nets to enable the live release of incidentally caught species such as turtles and seabirds, among others.

Ascension Island

Ascension Island has some of the largest marlin in the entire world. The island also houses the largest populations of green turtles, important groups of tropical seabirds and other endemic fish species such as the offensively-named "bastard cunningfish."

Photo: Drew Avery | Flickr

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