Ascension Island

Ascension Island is one of the most remote inhabited islands on Earth, located in the South Atlantic Ocean midway between Angola and Brazil. It forms part of the U.K. Overseas Territory of St. Helena, Ascension, and Tristan da Cunha.

Due to its remoteness, Ascension Island has a high abundance of flora and fauna, with numerous endemic species – found nowhere else on earth – and a variety of marine life originally from West Africa and the Caribbean.

Ascension Island’s marine ecosystem is one of the most intact in the Atlantic, sustaining some of the ocean’s largest yellowfin tunas and blue marlins, as well as sharks, rock hind groupers, and spotted moray eels. The waters are home to at least 11 endemic fish species, including the resplendent pygmy angelfish, Ascension goby, marmalade razorfish, and Ascension wrasse, as well as two endemic species of shrimp, one of which has been found in only two saltwater pools on the island. Marine mammals commonly spotted here include bottle-nose and pan-tropical spotted dolphins, and sperm and humpback whales.

Endangered green turtles—protected here under a 1930 harvesting ban—migrate to Ascension each year to mate and nest, and observers have seen critically endangered hawks-bill turtles in these waters, although they aren’t known to nest on the island.

Ascension is also an important sea-bird breeding and nesting site in the tropical Atlantic, providing a breeding area for 12 species, including the brown noddy, sooty tern, and endemic frigate bird.

The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy[1]has been working to support the Great British Oceans coalition’s ‘Back the Blue Belt’ campaign[2], and supports the designation of the entire Ascension EEZ as a highly protected MPA, as do the community and locally elected Island Council, which has driven the efforts to create an MPA.

In March 2019, the U.K. Government committed its support to the Ascension Island Council’s proposal to designate a marine protected area (MPA) that would cover 443,000 km2 of the island’s EEZ. Such a bid would help safeguard the abundant marine life surrounding the island, improve local fisheries, and create tourism opportunities. Studies show that well-designed and well-managed MPAs convey those benefits and are home to more and bigger fish than are unprotected areas.

[1]The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Bertarelli Foundation joined forces in 2017 to create the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, with the shared goal of establishing the first generation of ecologically significant and effective marine protected areas around the world. This effort builds on a decade of work by both organisations to protect the ocean. Between them, they have helped to obtain designations to safeguard more than 8 million square kilometers (3 million square miles) of ocean by working with philanthropic partners, indigenous groups, community leaders, government officials, and scientists. Since 2010, the Bertarelli Foundation has sought to protect the ocean for future generations through marine conservation and collaborative marine science research.

[2]The UK Government’s “Blue Belt” commitment is to provide long-term protection for more than 4 million km2 of marine environment across its overseas territories.