The Darwin Initiative Blog

Insights and personal musings from the world of biodiversity conservation and development. For more info on the Darwin Initiative see https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/the-darwin-initiative


Leave a comment

Life Below Water – International Year of the Reef

This latest series of Darwin blogs has been focused on Sustainable Development Goal 14 – “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. In the first blog of the series, we looked at the incredible work by Darwin projects in the Coral Triangle of the Pacific Ocean. The next blog focused on marine reserves and protected areas, particularly around coral reefs in Central America and the Southern Atlantic. Now, in our final post of the series, we look at a project in the Caribbean, promoting and celebrating the International Year of the Reef and striving to change international perceptions and approaches.

In order to achieve SDG14, global leaders and scientists must provide and communicate a deeper understanding of the complex interspecies dynamics that determine the balance of life under the sea.

In response to this, the Central Caribbean Marine Institute (CCMI) has developed a range of impactful outreach activities to support stronger action on coral reefs during this third International Year of the Reef (IYOR). IYOR 2018 is an excellent opportunity to boost public, private, and governmental efforts to ensure that our seas and especially coral reefs are protected via sustainable efforts and regulations which benefit our society on numerous levels.

Cayman Islands DPLUS061 CCMI's IYOR outreach Jan 2018, to engage local stakeholders in protecting Coral Reefs, Credit Maggie Jackson
CCMI’s IYOR outreach in January 2018 engaged local stakeholders in protecting Coral Reefs, Credit – Maggie Jackson

One area of CCMI’s research, funded through Darwin Plus, is examining which key herbivorous fish species on Caribbean coral reefs are consuming the most problematic species of algae. Careful evaluations of 11 dominant fish species have led to a new discovery that both chubs and certain species of parrotfish are eating the largest volumes of algae over large areas. At a time when climate change is pushing competitive interactions to a tipping point, protecting these species provides additional resilience to the coral reef ecosystem as a whole. CCMI is also working with local fishermen and stakeholders to engage the community in a dialogue that hopes to find new solutions to age old problems.

Cayman Islands DPLUS061 Tangs eating algae from the trial rope, Credit - Claire Dell
Tangs eating algae from the trial rope, Credit – Claire Dell

In addition to maintaining over 25% of all marine species, healthy coral reefs provide a powerful physical barrier that shields coastal communities from over 90% of the wave energy generated by storms. Corals create the framework and calcareous algae that cements reefs together. As the reef structure degrades, lagoon habitats become open to ocean waves, and mangroves and shorelines erode. In the end, protecting key species on the reef relies on our community of stakeholders making informed decisions based on good data. CCMI are asking citizen scientists and tourists to join their “IYOR – Zero Impact” campaign which describes how we as individuals can help protect coral reefs for the future.

To find out more about the IYOR, visit https://www.reefresearch.org/get-involved/iyor2018/. To find out more about their Darwin Plus project, see here.

For the complete article on these projects, and a variety of other interesting updates from Darwin coastal and marine projects, see the latest Darwin Newsletter themed on “Life Below Water”.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Life Below Water – Conserving Marine Areas

This is the second in our series of Darwin blogs celebrating the remarkable and innovative ways Darwin projects contribute to Sustainable Development Goal 14 – “Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development”. Our last blog explored two projects in the Western Pacific’s Coral Triangle, working to minimise unsustainable shark fishing and implementing collaborative community schemes to better manage seagrass beds.

This blog looks at projects working to establish marine protected areas. With the first project, we travel to Belize and look at a protected area in the heart of the Mesoamerican Reef. From the Caribbean Sea we then move to the South Atlantic to learn about the Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary Project and their plans to establish the largest marine reserve in the Atlantic.

Conservation and socioeconomic benefits of a marine protected area at Glover’s Atoll, Belize

Marine protected areas (MPAs) are now common, and have evoked considerable public interest. They have become one of the more popular tools within an ecosystem-based management approach because they are able to balance environmental health and biodiversity conservation with the socio-economic needs of fishing communities across the world’s oceans.

Areas within MPAs where all extractive use is prohibited are traditionally referred to as ‘no-take areas’. However in Belize the term ‘replenishment zone’ (RZ) has recently been adopted in place of ‘no-take zone’. ‘Replenishment zone’ has a less negative connotation for resource users concerned about being restricted from fishing in traditional waters.

Belize 22-014 Spiny lobster is the most important fishery and the largest seafood export for Belize, Credit - Alex Tewfik

Spiny lobster is the most important fishery and the largest seafood export for Belize, Credit – Alex Tewfik

This Darwin project, led by the WCS Belize Programme, works with fishers in Belize to ensure the long-term sustainability of the fisheries they rely on, particularly queen conch and Caribbean spiny lobster. The cooperation of local fishers is crucial, and so their perception of the role of these protected areas is pivotal to project success. Interventions are focused on the Glover’s Reef Atoll which has an area of 350 km2 and lies approximately 42 km east of the central Belizean mainland. This atoll is 1 of 7 protected areas that comprise the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.

A study carried out through the project demonstrates the positive impact of protection within the RZ. Importantly they also identify the benefits of RZs for small scale fisher livelihoods. The benefits observed following the establishment and enforcement of the RZ at Glover’s Atoll have been supported by a broader set of fisheries conservation strategies, such as size limits, closed seasons, and species bans. The sustainability of this approach will be assured by continuing long-term community consultations that support the core objectives for the management of GRMR, enhancing economic benefits for Belizean fishers.

The results of this research (published in Marine Ecology Progress Series) will also be used to inform the ever-evolving conservation and management strategies employed by WCS across Belize. Ultimately the aim is to achieve a balance between biodiversity and ecosystem services protection, including fisheries and tourism-based livelihoods. Doing so will help to secure the future of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Belize Barrier Reef System, and will generate findings with broader applicability across the Mesoamerican Reef.

Belize 22-014 A free diver searches for Queen Conch within Glover's atoll lagoon ,Credit - Alex Tewfik cropped

A free diver searches for Queen Conch within Glover’s Atoll lagoon, Credit – Alex Tewfik

The Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary: Planning for the Atlantic’s largest marine reserve

Although many people would struggle to find it on a map, the remote UK Overseas Territory of Ascension Island is on the verge of entering the ‘big league’ of ocean conservation, joining such notable company as the Great Barrier Reef and the Galapagos Islands as home to one of the world’s largest marine reserves.

The intention to close at least 50% of Ascension’s 440,000 km2 exclusive economic zone (EEZ) to all forms of commercial fishing by 2019 was formally announced by the UK Government at the UN Our Oceans summit in September 2016 and will establish the largest fully no-take MPA in the Atlantic Ocean. Providing the scientific and technical data to support these decisions is currently the focus of a Darwin Plus project led by the Ascension Island Government Conservation & Fisheries Department and the University of Exeter.

The Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary (ASIOS) Project aims to address many of the challenges and controversies common to all remote, large-scale MPAs: How can it be enforced? How effectively will it conserve the highly mobile species of the open ocean? How do we measure its success? The project is also responding to the mandate of local and UK Government stakeholders to assess whether an economically-viable and well-managed fishery can coexist with a future MPA in a portion of the EEZ, and, if so, which areas should be protected.

Galapagos DPLUS063 Aggregation of Galapagos sharks, Credit - Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Dept

A Galapagos shark being released after fitting acoustic tag, Credit – British Antarctic Survey

Oceanic islands and seamounts are known to be hotspots of abundance and diversity for pelagic species and are obvious focal points for the creation of marine reserves. In order to better understand the scale of their ‘bio-aggregating’ effect, the ASIOS project team surveyed the biodiversity of three previously unstudied seamounts lying 260-320 km to the south and west of Ascension. To determine how large an area needs protecting, the expedition set out to measure how the abundance and diversity of marine life at all levels of the food chain varies with distance from each mount, as well as mapping the movements of individual top predators associated with them. These datasets will hopefully provide a rare insight into the “biodiversity footprint” of a tropical seamount system that can contribute to MPA planning on Ascension and beyond.

With less than two years until designation there is still much to be done; however, with the support of Darwin Plus, the European Union’s BEST 2.0 initiative and other donors, the Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary promises to put the Territory firmly on the map as a global leader in MPA science and management.

For the complete articles on these projects, and a variety of other interesting updates from Darwin coastal and marine projects, see the latest Darwin Newsletter themed on “Life Below Water”. For more information on WCS’s project in Belize see here, and for more information on the Ascension Island MPA see here.

Our next blog will look at the International Year of the Reef.


Leave a comment

Darwin delivers in the Falklands

Continuing the theme of celebrating the Darwin Initiative’s 25th Anniversary (see our last blog!), this latest blog shares two articles from our most recent newsletter, both looking at the work the Darwin Initiative has supported in the Falkland Islands.

Darwin funding was awarded to a Falklands based project in 1993, the very first year of funding, delivered by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum. Since then, Darwin has consistently supported diverse conservation projects in the Falkland Islands resulting in a wide range of benefits and outcomes. The following articles from our newsletter, prepared by Falklands Conservation and the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute respectively, highlight but a few of the Darwin supported Falklands projects over the years.

Darwin delivers in the Falklands thanks to Falklands Conservation

With eight Darwin Initiative projects awarded to Falklands Conservation (FC) alone over the last thirteen years, the contribution of the Initiative to delivering environmental research, practical conservation and biodiversity policy development in the Falklands cannot be underestimated. FC is a small conservation charity based in the Falklands, partnering with the local and international community to conserve the Falkland Islands natural environment. External funding is essential to the delivery of its organisational objectives. FC’s Darwin projects have discovered new species to science, delivered Species Actions Plans, built local capacity, educated and trained the local community, changed national policy, and much more besides.

The benefits continue today, well beyond the life of each Darwin Initiative project. Following native seed trials, and habitat restoration technique development delivered through Darwin Initiative projects, FC now has a Habitat Restoration Officer working with landowners on restoration projects tackling habitat loss in the Islands. New records and even new species to science are still being identified two years after samples of mosses, liverworts and lichens were collected through FC’s ‘Lower Plants’ project. The Falkland Islands National Herbarium at FC now houses lower plants specimens which can be accessed for research and educational purposes.

Falklands EIDCF014 conservation volunteer collecting Poa alopecurus on Sea Lion Island Credit A Davey

Conservation volunteer collecting Poa alopecurus on Sea Lion Island, Credit: A. Davey

Darwin Initiative funded projects aimed at understanding Falklands’ raptor populations and landowner issues have led to updated population estimates and Species Action Plans for raptors of conservation concern, and influenced Government policy development on control measures. After a Darwin Initiative funded Biodiversity Action Planning project, National Biodiversity policy was aligned with delivering CBD targets and strategies are still being developed to provide more focussed and effective conservation action. These are just a few examples of how much Darwin Initiative has, and continues to deliver in the Falkland Islands!

Marine Spatial Planning in the Falkland Islands

Around three years ago, the Falkland Islands took a massive step forward in terms of marine planning when a Darwin-Plus funded project commenced. The two year project titled ‘Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) for the Falkland Islands’, and led by the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI), and supported by the Falklands Islands Government (FIG), developed a framework for the implementation of MSP along with a suite of associated tools to support MSP.

MSP is a practical, stakeholder driven, science-based approach to organising the marine environment and the interactions between its users.  It strives to balance the demands for development with the need to protect the marine environment and to achieve social and economic objectives.

Falklands Marine spatial planning, Credit Neil Golding

The Darwin Initiative has led to a sea change in the way management of the marine environment is considered in the Falklands Islands, Credit: Neil Golding

Following this pioneering work in the South Atlantic, Falkland Islands Government were keen to maintain the momentum generated, and directed SAERI to undertake a short, follow-on project.  There were four goals to this subsequent project:

  1. maintain and update the suite of MSP tools;
  2. undertake an assessment of fishing closure areas within the Falkland Islands;
  3. undertake a review to identify legislative gaps for future MSP implementation; and
  4. develop a long-term strategy for MSP implementation in the Falkland Islands.

The project is progressing well and is due to finish in 2017.

The story of how far marine spatial planning has come in the Falkland Islands is a real testament to the importance of the Darwin Initiative, and really demonstrates how a single Darwin-Plus project has led to a sea of change in the management of the Falklands marine environment.

For more articles celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Darwin Initiative, please see our newsletter


Leave a comment

Ecotourism and biodiversity conservation – experience from Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda

by Lesley King

According to the UN, tourism has become ‘one of the largest and fastest-growing economic sectors in the world’ (UNWTO 2016). Indeed if you look at the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers for many of the countries Darwin projects work in, tourism is seen as an important area of investment to support development.  International tourism represents 7% of the world’s exports in goods and services and represents a key source of future jobs and investment in things like infrastructure for developing states.

However, tourism and biodiversity conservation have a chequered history with ecotourism ventures widely touted as the silver bullet for funding conservation – predominately by the marketers of such ventures. What is often misunderstood by the general public is the impact this tourism can have on biodiversity – both directly through increased human footfall in areas of high biodiversity, but also indirectly through policies and incentives that often end up pushing local poor, often the guardians and curators of such biodiversity, into greater poverty.

It was this issue of equity and how it incentivises biodiversity conservation that came up when I visited Uganda in 2015 on an evaluation of Darwin projects.

The Darwin Initiative has funded a number of projects focusing on Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in the south-west of Uganda. It is an important park for Mountain Gorilla with roughly half the world’s population residing in the park. It is also an important source of revenue for Uganda with tourists visiting to track habituated gorillas paying over $500 per permit.

The impact of this tourism on the local communities living just outside the fence of the park is complex. When the park was gazetted in 1991, the Batwa, indigenous forest peoples residing in the forest, were removed and resettled outside the park with no compensation. The Batwa were especially disadvantaged as the forest was the basis of their livelihood and practices that defined their ethnic identity.

Uganda 19-013 Batwa children on edge of Bwindi National Park Credit L King

Batwa children on the edge of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Credit: Lesley King

In addition to the Batwa, the majority of the local population around Bwindi are poor subsistence farmers growing crops on terraces on very steep hillsides.  Whilst a proportion of the fee tourists pay to enter Bwindi is shared through a benefit-sharing scheme, there is often bad feeling towards the park; local people feel that they pay a high cost as a result of human-wildlife conflicts. They see rich tourists arriving and spending large amounts of money to access the gorillas but little of that benefit is felt by them.

During my visit in 2015 I evaluated 2 Darwin-funded projects working on different aspects of these issues.

The first, “Integrating Batwa cultural values into national parks management in Uganda”, was a project led by FFI. It supported Batwa people to increase their engagement with the park management authorities and to negotiate access into the park to engage with their spiritual values – an essential for life as a Batwa. In addition, the project supported Batwa to develop livelihood initiatives including organic farming (as traditionally forest peoples, they have limited skills in agriculture), handicrafts to sell to tourists, and the flagship Batwa Forest Experience project.

Uganda 19-019 Batwa Forest Experience guides in their new uniforms Credit L King

Batwa Forest Experience guides in their new uniforms, Credit: Lesley King

The Batwa Forest Experience is a new venture that was negotiated by the Darwin Project. It is a cultural experience directed at tourists that have already completed their gorilla tracking and looking for something else to do in the area. Tourists will be led by a Batwa guide and interpreter through the forests within the National Park and the life of the Batwa will be explained through stories, singing and dancing. Some of the tourism businesses the reviewers spoke to saw this venture as having real potential for increasing tourism revenue in this area. The biggest challenge for tourist providers is, once tourists have completed the gorilla tracking, there is little to keep them in the area. The Batwa Forest Experience was seen as a new niche product that would entice visitors.

The second project I visited, “Research to Policy – building capacity for conservation through poverty alleviation”, was led by IIED and looked to boost the capacity of Ugandan NGOs and research groups to undertake research-into-use. They used Bwindi as a case study and, in addition to boosting capacity to undertake research and advocacy work, made positive inputs to how the park was managed to the benefit of poor local communities.

One of the issues the project looked at was the issue of equity in the park’s benefit-sharing scheme. A proportion of the fee tourists pay to enter the park is shared out with local people living around the outskirts of the park. By supporting the Ugandan partners to develop their advocacy skills, the project resulted in an important agreement for the Ugandan Wildlife Authority to increase the benefits paid out to local people, in the form of the gorilla levy. Due to the work of the project, the share of revenue from tourists paid to local people was doubled (by potentially more than $100,000 per year) which is hoped to support local poor and reduce conflict between the people and the park authorities and reduce illegal incursions into the park.

The CBD chose the International Day for Biological Diversity to highlight its chosen theme for 2017 – biodiversity and sustainable tourism. In the coming months in Darwin we will be pulling out more examples of how our Darwin projects work to support sustainable tourism. The theme for the next Darwin Newsletter will be sustainable tourism – find out how to submit an article here – or if you are working on issues mentioned above and would like to write a guest blog post for us please contact darwin-newsletter@ltsi.co.uk.


Leave a comment

Social forestry: new hope or new worry for biodiversity conservation in Indonesia?

Our most recent newsletter features articles from projects on conservation and conflict, and below we feature the article from “Marrying community land rights with stakeholder aspirations in Indonesian Borneo” by project leader Dr. Matthew Struebig. Read the full newsletter here!

In the coming years Indonesia is hoping to answer a question that is in the minds of many people: can local communities effectively protect forests and wildlife? Surprisingly, we don’t really know. But Indonesia is embarking on a nation-wide experiment to find out.

Under Indonesia’s social forestry policy 127,000 km² of land will be allocated to community land use. To put this in perspective, that’s similar to the size of the island of Java, or a little smaller than England. This includes forests for different types of use, including Village Forest (Hutan Desa, in Bahasa Indonesian), Community Forest (Hutan Kemasyarakatan) and Customary Forest (Hutan Adat). The forests will be under State control, but will be managed by communities.

In terms of democratic progress, this is a giant leap towards more equitable distribution of forest rights, especially for local and indigenous communities. For decades, people’s rights have been ignored, with forest management being dominated by government and corporations. However, while it seems a good way to reduce conflict and improve human rights, the potential impact of social forestry on forest loss and wildlife conservation is unknown. What will happen to the country’s forests and wildlife once they are in the hands of Indonesia’s forest communities? Or in more direct terms, are forest communities any better at protecting forest and wildlife than the previous managers, government and corporations?

social-forestry-1

People have a long history of forest use in Indonesia, and are about to get their rights back, Credit: Gabriella Frederickson

There are quite a few examples of community-based forest management successfully supporting biodiversity conservation in Indonesia. In Wehea, East Kalimantan, for example, the indigenous Dayak community uses their traditional laws to manage 380 km² of logged forest for conservation by deterring illegal logging and poaching. Another example is in Laman Satong, West Kalimantan, in which the local community protects a remnant patch of forest from encroaching oil palm development.

But successes are only part of the story. Indeed our new Darwin Initiative Project, a collaboration between the Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Fauna and Flora International, Borneo Futures and the Universities of Kent and Queensland, is showing that the performance of community-based forest management in avoiding deforestation varies widely. With additional support from the Woodspring Trust, our preliminary data suggest that the performance of community-based forest management in Indonesian Borneo is influenced by factors such as access from forest to markets, the occurrence of peat, and distance to agricultural lands. If we wish to get the highest benefit for conservation, social forestry programs could be directed toward the areas and communities which are likely to avoid deforestation.

Another indicator that could be used to inform the selection of land for social forestry is conflict involving local communities in relation to deforestation. A recent Kalimantan-wide study suggests that communities with high dependency on forest resources are likely to strongly oppose deforestation by large-scale industries such as oil palm. These communities rely on the nearby forests for socio-cultural reasons such as to collect non-timber forest products for subsistence uses and traditional ceremonies. Therefore, the community’s opposition to deforestation could be a useful consideration when prioritizing areas for social forestry.

social-forestry-2

2 Kenyah women working in their home gardens, Credit: Ed Pollard

 

While we have preliminary clues on the factors that could be considered in developing social forestry programmes, there are still unresolved questions. For example, do all communities that have proposed social forestry have the capacity and resources, including support from non-governmental organizations, to sustainably manage the proposed forest? How can the government, both at central and local levels, facilitate the governance of social forestry programs including in planning, approval, supervision, and monitoring? Our project is helping to address these questions in Kalimantan by providing the scientific evidence base to help allocation decisions and monitoring of community forest programmes.

Indonesia’s social forestry policy is a contemporary test of democracy and human rights, and if successful, could go on to become a showcase of community-based conservation in the world.


Leave a comment

Securing marine fisheries, livelihoods and biodiversity in Burma through co-management

In the build up to CITES CoP17 we have been sharing articles from our upcoming newsletter themed around the Conference. We have heard how learning about trends in the illegal ivory trade can inform decision making on elephants and how robust legal protection has the power to reverse population declines.

In our final taster before the full newsletter is released, we hear about fisheries co-management in Burma. Alongside their work with communities developing sustainable co-management plans, the project team is gathering data on shark and ray catches and trade. This can then feed in to international policy making, and support Governments in developing their national conservation strategies.

myanmar-23024-u-min-nyunt-han-rakhine-coastal-association-facilitating-a-stakeholder-workshop-june-2016-credit-martin-callow-wcs

Rakhine Coastal Association facilitating a stakeholder workshop, June 2016, Credit: Martin Callow, WCS

Burma’s marine resources have long provided sustenance to its coastal people. Over 25,000 small-scale fishing vessels are registered to fish its coastline and nearly half of the country’s population lives in coastal states and regions. Despite fisheries’ importance, Burma has limited capacity for sustainable management.

This overexploitation has resulted in drastic declines of stocks; a 2014 marine survey carried out by Norway showed that pelagic stocks are currently only 10% of their 1979 biomass, with similar estimates for inshore fisheries. Inshore fisheries are of particular concern as the decline directly influences local livelihoods and food security. The impacts of fishing practices on protected marine species, such as dugong, turtles, sharks and rays, are also evident.

Fortunately, the tide is on the turn. The newly elected government of Burma is in the process of decentralising authority of the inshore fisheries sector to its states and regions, a development that provides the platform for empowering local people and enabling fisheries co-management.

In support of this process, WCS is working in southern Rakhine state, and harnessing the needs of local fishers and fish-workers to explore how to rebuild their resources. By working in partnership with the Rakhine Coastal Association, Department of Fisheries, Pyoe Pin and our academic and technical implementing partners (University of Exeter, Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) respectively), we are implementing a participatory process to document catch and effort, and collect social and value chain data (with a reach of over 1,200 fishers). Combined with outreach and training, we are working to improve coastal fisheries governance, secure fishers’ tenure for sustainable fisheries management and develop a spatially explicit sustainable co-management plan.

Owing to the political shift towards federalism, the model has significant potential to scale in Rakhine state, and beyond. Working in partnership with EDF, we are assessing additional sites across Burma to ensure our resources offer value for money and impact. Similarly, our work is enabling us to improve knowledge of shark and ray catches and trade. In addition, this is enabling us to support the government of Burma with preparations for CITES CoP17, and to build links with our broader efforts (funded by the UK Government’s IWT Challenge Fund) to combat illegal wildlife trade and support the national plan of action for the conservation of sharks.

For more information about Burmese fisheries, see: https://myanmarbiodiversity.org/portfolio-items/marine-fisheries

by Martin Callow, Project Leader, Wildlife Conservation Society. To find out more about project 23-024, click here.

We hope you’ve enjoyed these first few articles! Be sure to follow us on Twitter @Darwin_Defra and add us on Facebook to be the first to hear when the full newsletter is released!

 


Leave a comment

Ascension Island’s new CITES Ordinance receives Category 1 status

rsz_ascension_island_green_turtle_cover_up_sam_weber_aig_conservation_dep

Ascension Island Green Turtle Cover Up, Credit: Sam Weber, AIG Conservation Department

We hope you enjoyed our first peek into our upcoming CITES CoP17-themed newsletter! In her article, Learning about trends in the illegal ivory trade to inform decision making on elephants, Dr. Fiona Underwood discussed the legacy of her project and its impact on decision making.

In this next article, Dr. Nicola Weber of the Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Department discusses work under various Darwin Plus projects, a scheme that funds environmental projects in the UK Overseas Territories. These projects have helped develop the legal framework for wildlife trade on Ascension Island, and the Island’s fascinating history highlights the transformative power of robust legal protection.

Over the past 4 years, through projects funded by the Darwin Initiative and with support and expertise from overseas partners, Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Department (AIGCD) has undertaken a major strategic planning exercise. This has resulted in the development of a National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP), a scientific roadmap for the designation of an evidence-based marine protected area at Ascension Island, and the enactment of four Ordinances relating to the protection of Ascension’s biodiversity. These can all be accessed here: www.ascension-island.gov.ac/government/conservation/projects/bap.

The most recent piece of legislation to be enacted is the Control of Trade in Endangered Species Ordinance 2015 that has just received Category 1 status from the CITES Secretariat. This Ordinance makes provision for the regulation of trade in endangered species by Ascension Island Government. While the import and export of species listed by CITES occurs very infrequently at Ascension Island, having the legislation in place provides the legal framework to ensure that this remains the case. Ascension Island is famous for the green turtles Chelonia mydas (CITES listing: Appendix 1) that nest upon its beaches and until the 1920s provided fresh meat for residents and passing ships.

ascension-island-historical-turtle-harvesting-credit-ascension-island-heritage-society

Credit: Ascension Island Heritage Society

Now, over 70 years after legal protection and the cessation of commercial turtle harvesting, the average number of green turtle clutches deposited annually at Ascension Island has increased six fold since monitoring began in 1977, from approximately 3,700 to 23,700 clutches per annum. This highlights the need for the robust legal protection of threatened species and shows that with the correct measures and conservation actions in place, population declines can be reversed.

by Dr. Nicola Weber,  Ascension Island Government Conservation and Fisheries Department