MPZ Event at the House of Commons
Photos from Ben Andrew (rspb-images.com) and Peter Millington, and Hazel Carter TDC Website
An event to celebrate the designation of the Marine Protection Zone (MPZ) around the Tristan islands was held on Wednesday the 11th May 2022 in the Speaker’s State Rooms at the Palace of Westminster. The MPZ was announced in November 2020, but the Covid pandemic meant that this celebration had to be postponed.
In 2020, the community of Tristan da Cunha declared that almost 700,000km2 of its waters would become a Marine Protection Zone becoming the largest no-take zone in the Atlantic and the fourth largest on the planet.
The 687,247km2 Marine Protection Zone – almost three times the size of the UK – safeguards one of the world’s most pristine marine environments and protects the wealth of wildlife that lives there. The Marine Protection Zone around Tristan is the gold standard of marine protection, with no fishing or other extractive activities permitted across the whole area. This move makes the Tristan islanders the guardians of the largest no-take zone in the relatively unprotected Atlantic Ocean.
The event in Speakers House aimed to celebrate this designation, bringing together members of the Tristan community, UK Government, Parliamentarians, NGOs and donors, to build support and raise the profile of Tristan da Cunha’s marine conservation achievements. The event was co-organised by the Tristan da Cunha Government and the RSPB under the Atlantic Guardians project – a Blue Nature Alliance funded project to support Tristan with building a strong and sustainable start to the MPZ through activities such research and monitoring, capacity building, community engagement, and global profile raising. Three of the donors to our IEF Tristan endowment fund were represented in the room.
Notable attendees included Dr. Philip Rushbrook, Governor of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, Jason & Sue Ivory, Administrator designate of Tristan da Cunha, several Tristanians currently resident in the UK, and officers of the Tristan da Cunha Association.
The reception commenced with words of welcome from the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, followed by a speech from Tristan’s Chief Islander James Glass, who then acted as master of ceremonies for the rest of the proceeedings.
James Glass’s Speech
“Thank you Mr Speaker for your warm welcome, and for these wonderful surroundings. I hope one day you’ll be able to visit Tristan, and it’ll feel like home because of course most of our houses are just like this!!
My Lords, members of the House of Commons, distinguished guests, and fellow Tristanians.
It’s an absolute privilege and honour to welcome you all here. And can I give a special welcome to one young fan of Tristan da Cunha who lives here in the UK. Henry’s ‘Naturetastic’ video about our island has been viewed hundreds of times. Give us a wave Henry, and let’s all give him a round of applause!”
“We’re here to celebrate the arrival of the Tristan da Cunha Marine Protection Zone, and Tristanians should be very proud of their community’s achievement. It all started back in 2016, when our Government pledged to explore how best to protect its vast economic zone. After four years of research and debate, we committed to conserve 91% of our waters as the MPZ. This became law a few months ago: it’s the biggest fully protected marine reserve in the Atlantic, and the fourth largest on the planet.
This may be our biggest conservation move, but it’s by no means the first. Over many years, Tristanians have played a leading role in undertaking scientific research and developing proposals to protect our environment. We know our unique ecosystem needs to be defended – and a healthy ocean is what will keep our community resilient for generations to come.
I made it clear from the start that Tristanians don’t want our MPZ to be just a paper excise. It must be a living thing, actively monitored and defended. So effective surveillance – including satellite monitoring backed by the UK government – must be maintained for the long term. We also want to encourage more research work in our waters, which are teeming with precious wildlife.
With the Tristan MPZ, the UK’s ‘Blue Belt’ programme hit its first big conservation target – and it also moved into unique territory. Tristan da Cunha was the first participant to come to the project with both a permanent population and an existing commercial fishery. Fishing sustainably for rock lobster and other species is the very foundation of the Tristan economy, providing for the livelihood and wellbeing of the islanders.
In closing off so much of our zone, we’ve sacrificed future revenues, and also lost the extra connectivity that visits by fishing vessels can provide. Tristan is the only OT that has no airport, no vessel of its own, and no travel subsidies. Instead we rely entirely on the support of our fishery concession holder. While I’m here in London I want to start work to diversify our shipping links with the outside world.
Any loss of fishing revenue is keenly felt on an island where incomes are extremely low, and where shipping charges can add as much as 95% to the price of everyday goods. It also means less to spend on infrastructure, education, healthcare and other vital services. Our Scottish heritage makes us resilient, but no-one can last forever without income. So, we welcome the creation of an Endowment Fund, established with help from the RSPB, and funders present here tonight. Hopefully this and other projects deriving from implementing our MPZ will mitigate some of the loss and we’re grateful to all the donor organisations.
We will continue to work with the Blue Belt teams at the Marine Management Organisation and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science. I would also like to thank the British Antarctic Survey, the RSPB, the Darwin Plus scheme, and fishing companies Ovenstone Agencies (in Tristan) and Argos (in the Falkland Islands) for their contribution to the data collection which helped make possible this MPZ.
In 2017 Felicity and I had the privilege to be guests at the United Nations in New York, where my grandson Kieran represented the island and the wider UK family before the General Assembly. Kieran was among children from UNESCO’s marine World Heritage Sites who pledged to world leaders that they would protect their ocean environments. I am proud that we are honouring his pledge. If the world’s most remote community can make a difference by protecting over 90% of its waters, which it depends on for survival, others across the world can follow suit and work diligently to protect marine biodiversity on a global scale.
Today, Tristanians can be proud that the world recognises them as true guardians of the South Atlantic. Thank you again to all those who’ve helped us get to this historic moment.”
“I’m delighted to say we can now see a special message from the UK environment minister, the Right Honourable Lord Zac Goldsmith….”
“I’m very grateful to the minister for those kind words. I’d now like to welcome the Chief Executive of the RSPB, Beccy Speight:”
The waters that surround Tristan are some of the richest and most pristine in the world. Full of iconic species such as albatross, penguins, whales, plus islands where millions of seabirds darken the sky as they return to their nests, and where beaches are impassable due to the number of seals and penguins. An extraordinary place.
The designation of this vast Marine Protection Zone is testament to the far-sightedness of the Tristan community, who also simultaneously run one of the world’s most sustainable (and delicious) lobster fisheries. Both are possible together!
The RSPB has had the wonderful privilege of supporting the Tristan community on its conservation journey over the past 20 years. Our staff feel honoured to be part of the wider Tristan family.
Some major thank yous:
Firstly, to the Tristan community for your conservation leadership. We all have so much we can learn from this small community of 250 people. You really are Atlantic Guardians, and a shining example for other communities all over the world.
Secondly, to our partners and generous donors who enabled us to support Tristan in this monumental achievement. It’s been a long road and we couldn’t have done it without you.
Finally, to the UK Government’s Blue Belt programme, which has provided the vital framework to enable Territories to go so big and bold in their marine protection.
The work doesn’t stop here! We’re in this partnership with you for another 20 years at least, if you’ll have us, and look forward to supporting your work to manage this MPZ and showcase its dramatic wonders and secrets to the world.
“Many thanks Beccy, and thanks for all that you and your colleagues do for Tristan.
The partners of the UK’s Blue Belt programme have provided lots of help to turn the MPZ into reality. So please now welcome the Deputy Chief Executive of CEFAS, Tim Green.”
“Many thanks Tim. Now, your canapés are nearly ready! But we’ve saved the most important voices of the night to the end. The voices of the Tristan community…”
Messages from the Tristan community
“My lords, ladies and gentlemen, thank you again for joining us this evening and we hope the enthusiasm we all share for the precious environment of Tristan da Cunha will infect your conversations as we relax and mingle.
Before I close the formal part of the evening, there’s one more thing I’d like to do. Mr Speaker, thank you again for hosting us tonight. It gives me great pleasure to present you formally with this flag of Tristan da Cunha, which I know you want to fly on our special days in New Palace Yard.”
The Tristanians present at the event, who are currently resident in various parts of the British Isles, took advantage of being in London to catch up with each other afterwards at a nearby hostelry.