Jonathan Hall – the RSPB's UK Overseas Territories Officer brings us some fantastic news in this guest blog:

Some great news to share from the UK Overseas Territory of Ascension Island, located in the tropical South Atlantic half-way between Brazil and Africa. On Monday the Governor of Ascension created seven new nature reserves and wildlife sanctuaries on the island (they previously only had 1 protected area). This means that 20% of Ascension’s land area is now protected, including all the most important sites for wildlife. Fantastic news!

Ascension is so important because it is home to the second largest green turtle nesting site in the Atlantic, with over 25,000 nests per year, as well as one of the most important tropical seabird breeding sites in the world. The Island’s three main turtle nesting beaches have all finally been given protection, whilst the dramatic seabird nesting colonies of the Wideawake Fairs, Boatswain Bird Island and the Letterbox Peninsula, home to more than 800,000 nesting seabirds, also received legal protection for the first time.

The Wideawake Fairs are incredible and intriguingly named places, which earned their moniker from the hundreds of thousands of sooty terns which nest on them. The noise they make is amazing, hence the name given to them by the local population of ‘Wideawakes’... The colonies are concentrated on two fairs, and both now have nature reserve status.

Boatswain Bird Island meanwhile is famous for its role as the last nesting site of the unique Ascension Island frigatebird, which had been driven off the main island by introduced feral cat predation and restricted to this one rock stack. A successful feral cat eradication lead by the RSPB and Ascension Island Government, with funding from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, enabled the frigatebirds to return to the mainland to breed in 2012. Both Boatswain Bird island, on which over 95% of the world population of the Ascension frigatebird, and their new nesting sites on the mainland, have received protection.

Boatswain Bird Island - home to over 95% of the breeding population of the Ascension frigatebird, and now protected as a wildlife sanctuary (Stephen Vacher)

The RSPB played a leading role in helping to establish the Ascension Island Government Conservation Department roughly a decade ago, and is therefore delighted to see the huge progress which has been made on the island over the past few years. This includes passage of groundbreaking wildlife protection legislation last year, and then this week’s new announcement about protected areas. Much of this progress has been enabled through a UK Government funded Darwin Plus project, lead by Drs Sam and Nicola Weber for the Ascension Island Government and University of Exeter, and in which the RSPB is a partner. The Ascension Island Council has also played a leading and notable role in promoting environmental protection.

Long Beach is one of the Atlantic’s most important green turtle nesting beaches, and one of Ascension’s 7 new protected areas (Stephen Weber)

Over 25,000 endangered green turtle nests are laid on Ascension every year. (Sam Weber)

The RSPB is now working towards the designation of Ascension’s rich tropical waters as the Atlantic’s largest fully-protected marine reserve- an ‘Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary’ measuring over 440,000 km². There are currently no marine protected areas in Ascension’s waters, but a fully protected reserve would help ensure that Ascension’s amazing seabird, turtle, shark, tuna and whale populations are also protected when in their marine environment.  

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