In today's blog we’re celebrating the three-year anniversary of the Tristan da Cunha Marine Protection Zone, the largest no-take zone in the Atlantic Ocean. In this blog Janine Lavarello, Marine Protection Zone Officer, Tristan da Cunha Government reports on what the world’s most remote island community have been doing over those three years to safeguard their marine environment.  

In 2020, the community of Tristan da Cunha, a UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic, made the bold decision to protect 91% of their waters as a no-take Marine Protection Zone, protecting millions of seabirds including albatross and penguins and a wealth of marine life that use their waters. 

Two Rockhopper Penguins on a rocky slope with the ocean in the background.

Northern Rockhopper Penguins, Tristan da Cunha © Trevor Glass.

Later that year, the Tristan community with support from the RSPB, Blue Nature Alliance and the Tristan da Cunha Government established the Atlantic Guardians project to build a strong and sustainable future for the Marine Protection Zone through community engagement, knowledge exchange, science, and global outreach.

Watch the video to find out more about Atlantic Guardians and the achievements so far:

Appointing a marine team
The first job was the recruitment of a Tristan da Cunha Government, Marine Protection Zone Officer. I felt very lucky to be appointed and I have been learning the ropes from a Marine Management Support Officer. I visited the UK to shadow other ocean professionals and I have gained a qualification in marine biology as well as many other skills including learning to sail.

Golden sunlight over Tristan da Cunha as seen from the sea, a seabird is flying past in the foreground.

Three years ago the community of Tristan da Cunha, a UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic, made the bold decision to protect 91% of their waters as a no-take Marine Protection Zone. © Andy Schofield/RSPB.

Community involvement
My community of 250 residents have taken on roles as ‘guardians’ of the Atlantic Ocean and have been connecting with their marine environment by attending marine-themed public presentations, beach cleans and marine heritage projects including getting involved in the construction of a traditional dinghy longboat once used to sail to the neighbouring islands.

Six people stand alongside a traditional dinghy longboat with sails.

Traditional dinghy longboat built by the elder members of the Tristan da Cunha community © Jéssica Escobar Porras.

Inspiring the next generation
Inspiring the younger members of our community is an important way for us to build custodians for the future. Our school children have been enjoying marine school sessions, field trips and even snorkelling in the pool. Some school leavers with a keen interest in their marine environments have been appointed as Young Ocean Champions and will be visiting the UK to learn from other ocean professionals and share their stories.

An Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross in flight against a blue sky.

The Marine Protection Zone protects millions of seabirds including albatross and penguins and a wealth of marine life that use the waters around Tristan, including species such as the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross pictured here. © Andy Schofield/RSPB.

Sharing stories with the rest of the world
One of the things my community wanted was to challenge the rest of the world to take steps to protect their oceans. If my small community of only 250 residents could make such a huge impact, then others should follow in their footsteps. To share our story we have been blogging and presenting at conferences and events all over the globe including Canada, Tasmania and a six month trip to the UK where I met with many different organisations to learn more about marine conservation and presented on a panel at a UK Overseas Territories event in Westminster.

Three people stand next to signs for the Blue Nature Alliance and Atlantic Guardians.

To share our story we have been presenting at conferences and events all over the globe including at the International Marine Protected Areas Conference in Canada shown here - (left to right) Siobhan Vye (former RSPB Project Manager, Atlantic Guardians), Janine Lavarello (Marine Protection Zone Officer, Tristan da Cunha) and Andy Schofield (RSPB Government Partner Territories Programme Manager). © RSPB/Atlantic Guardians. 

New science discoveries
There is still so much to learn about the marine life in Tristan’s waters. Some of Tristan’s seamounts and deep-sea marine environments are still yet to be explored! The community have been monitoring seabirds, trialling underwater cameras and sound recorders, and recording marine mammal sightings. Only last month we saw a pod of 60 Pilot Whales by the harbour!

A Bottlenose Dolphin emerging from the waves.

Bottlenose Dolphin in the waters around Tristan da Cunha. © Andy Schofield/RSPB.

Sustainable fishing
The Marine Protection Zone consists of three zones, a Marine Protection Zone which is fully protected and where no extractive activities are permitted, this covers a huge 687,000 km². Sustainable lobster fishing and fishing by the local community is permitted in the Inshore Fishing Zones around the islands of Tristan da Cunha and sustainable longline demersal fishing is permitted in the Seamount Fishing Zones. Our map below outlines these different zones.

As a community, we manage our on-island, Marine Stewardship Council certified sustainable lobster fishery. Our fishery makes up over half the island’s economy and employs most members of the community in various roles.

To keep the lobster population healthy, we only take what we need. For example, we fish to a strict quota, return females with eggs to the sea, and only fish in the Inshore Fishing Zones using traditional, low impact methods.

The lobster is processed in our on-island factory for export to South Africa.

A map indicating the location of Tristan da Cunha and an infographic showing the location of the Marine Protection Zone.

The Tristan da Cunha Marine Protection Zone includes a 690,000km² no-take zone and sustainable fishing zones around the islands © Atlantic Guardians. 

Preventing illegal fishing - monitoring, surveillance, and enforcement
Although Tristan’s waters are protected as a no-take zone they are still vulnerable to illegal fishing. Being the largest Marine Protected Area in the Atlantic Ocean, at 690,000km² (that’s almost three times the size of the UK), and without a patrol boat it makes it difficult for the community to check for illegal fishing.

As Tristan da Cunha is a UK Overseas Territory, the UK Government Marine Management Organisation support the island with monitoring. They use satellite technology to provide 24/7 coverage of Tristan’s waters, reporting and taking necessary steps to prevent illegal fishing.

What’s next for Tristan’s Marine Protection Zone
The community will continue our journey to protect Tristan da Cunha’s marine environment for future generations and for wildlife.

Some of the things we hope to achieve over the next year include a dive school teaching islanders to scuba dive so they can explore their marine environments, deploying underwater acoustic recorders and cameras to record marine life and attending global conferences including the Albatross and Petrel conference in Mexico to further raise the profile of our Marine Protection Zone.

You can find out more on the Atlantic Guardians website or follow on social media @AtlanticGuardians.

Continue reading
From Flying Fish to Humpback Whales – exploring incredible Marine Protected Areas in the UK Overseas Territories
• Travelling the four UK seas in the name of ocean conservation
• Marine conservation on a global scale – the International Marine Protected Areas Congress
• Meet the world’s most remote Marine Protection Zone Officer

Want our blogs emailed to you automatically? Click the cog in the top right of this page and select 'turn blog notifications on' (if you have an RSPB blog account) or 'subscribe by email'.