A Tiny Atlantic Island Just Protected a Giant, Pristine Stretch of the Ocean

Tristan da Cunha fully protected 90 percent of its waters, safeguarding its vibrant biodiversity

A photograph of Tristan da Cunha taken from a boat out at sea. The blue ocean water meets the horizon halfway up the photo. The island, shaped like a flat triangle sits at the horizon. It has small clouds in front of it and a blue-pink sky in the backgrou
A remarkable abundance of wildlife reside on or around the territory's four islands, including endangered yellow-nosed albatross, sevengill sharks, rockhopper penguins and 11 species of whales and dolphins. Brian Gratwicke via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY 2.0

The government of Tristan da Cunha, a tiny British territory in the middle of the southern Atlantic Ocean, took a major step forward in marine conservation last week when it established the largest marine protected area (MPA) in the Atlantic and the fourth largest in the world, reports Sarah Gibbens for National Geographic.

The establishment of this MPA will fully protect 90 percent of Tristan da Cunha's waters, a total of 265,347 square miles—an area larger than the state of Texas. The MPA has been designated as a "no-take zone," so all fishing, mining and extraction is prohibited. Fully protected, no-take MPAs are rare—they only safeguard 2.6 percent of the ocean. Altogether, MPAs only make up around 8 percent of the ocean, reports National Geographic.

Located halfway between South Africa and Argentina, Tristan da Cunha is home to around 250 residents nearly, making it one of the most remote inhabited islands on Earth. A remarkable abundance of wildlife also resides on or around the territory's four islands, including endangered yellow-nosed albatross, sevengill sharks, rockhopper penguins and 11 species of whales and dolphins, reports Danica Kirka for the Associated Press. Protecting the ocean doesn't just protect the creatures in the water; it also safeguards the feeding grounds of millions of seabirds that inhabit the islands, reports National Geographic.

"Tristan da Cunha is a place like no other," Beccy Speight, the chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in the United Kingdom, says in an announcement from Tristan da Cunha's government. "The waters that surround this remote U.K. Overseas Territory are some of the richest in the world. Tens of millions of seabirds soar above the waves, penguins and seals cram onto 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."

This move is part of the U.K.'s Blue Belt Program, an initiative to establish MPAs in its territories as part of the global movement to safeguard nearly a third of the world's land and ocean, reports Karen McVeigh for the Guardian.

Earlier this year, the United Nations presented a new biodiversity plan that called to protect 30 percent of the planet by 2030. Doing so will shelter biodiversity from extinction, create a healthier planet and give nature space to mitigate the effects of climate change. This plan came out less than a year after scientists issued a study and warned that one million species are on the path to extinction.

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