To find Tristan da Cunha, most often called Tristan, you get on a boat at the Southeastern tip of South Africa, set your course directly east, and sail out into the empty South Atlantic Ocean for six days. There you’ll find the most remote inhabited archipelago in the world, a half-dozen tiny volcanic islands, where a population of around 245 people mostly make their living trapping lobsters.
Like the Galpagos in the Pacific, the islands of Tristan have a high significance of biodiversity due to their isolation, and they’re an important breeding habitat for migratory megafauna like sea lions and blue whales. Since 2004, the smaller islands in the chain have been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, which has provided them some degree of protection.
On Thursday November 12th, the Council government of Tristan, which is a British Overseas Territory, announced that the area would be joining the U.K.’s Blue Belt Program, declaring most of their local waters to be a no-take zone of marine protection.
All six islands of Tristan, collectively, have just under 80 square miles, but the territory includes over 270,000 square miles of ocean. In partnering themselves with the U.K. government, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and National Geographic’s Pristine Seas Initiative, nearly all of that will become entirely off-limits to fishing. The island’s sustainable lobster fisheries will remain, and even be boosted by conserving so much habitat around them.
“It is testament to the vision of the Tristan da Cunha community that one of the world’s smallest communities can make the single biggest contribution to global marine conservation this year,” said Enric Sala, the National Geographic Society Explorer-in-Residence, who lives part-time between Tristan and St Helena, over 2,000 miles to the North. He speaks for the Pristine Seas Initiative, which has set a goal to protect 30 percent of the global ocean from over-fishing and marine mining by 2030.
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