In our third Conservation Action blog we hear from Janine Lavarello, Marine Protection Zone Officer, Tristan da Cunha Government. Janine works on the Atlantic Guardians project, supported by the RSPB and the Tristan da Cunha Government and funded by the Blue Nature Alliance. 

I live on Tristan da Cunha, a tiny remote island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean. Living on a remote island surrounded by the ocean has its pros and cons. We are not as connected to the rest of the world and don’t get to experience all the things that others do. However, we live a very happy, content life that’s connected to nature and have learned to appreciate the little things in life.

The 14 August is our island Anniversary Day, the day when the British took ownership of Tristan da Cunha in 1816. It is an important day for us as it was the start of our island and our community. You can read more about the early history of Tristan da Cunha on the Tristan da Cunha Government website. If Tristan had not become a UK Overseas Territory, it most likely wouldn’t be the Tristan it is today, and for this, we can be thankful. The day is celebrated on our island as a public holiday. Generally, individuals or groups of friends mark the occasion with braai’s (BBQs), going fishing or having a picnic or a cooked meal on the fire.

Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean © Rohan Holt.

The ocean means everything to me
Living on a volcanic island, surrounded by the sea means the ocean is everything to me and my community. It’s our livelihood and without it we wouldn’t survive. From fishing for Tristan lobster (the island’s main income), imported goods from the outside world, and most importantly, the delicious local fish which are an essential part of our diet. That’s why it is so vital for us to protect and help keep the ocean as pristine as it already is.

Growing up on Tristan, the outdoors is always a big part of our lives whether you’re a child or adult. When the weather allows, you will find everyone spends more time outside than indoors. From fishing either off the harbor or out in the boat to carrying out surveys that protect our wonderful wildlife such as, yellow-nosed albatross, sooty albatrosses, northern rockhopper penguins, blue shark, rock lobster and bluenose warehou.

Janine with northern rockhopper penguins © Janine Lavarello.

Our journey to marine protection
Our work to conserve our marine environment started back in 2016 when our Government pledged to explore how best to protect its ocean, a commitment to be achieved by 2020. Our little island did not disappoint as in 2020 our newly designated Marine Protection Zone (MPZ) was established. The designation was known as the jewel of UK Marine Protection and made us the biggest no take zone in the Atlantic. The outcome provides us with superior protection for our wildlife on land and sea including our ecosystem as a whole, but this is just the start of something extraordinary. I started working as the Tristan Government Marine Protection Zone Officer in March 2022, so am still fairly new with lots to learn. My role supports marine management activities, including the Atlantic Guardians project.

As a child I had numerous opportunities going on boat trips to the neighboring islands of Nightingale and Inaccessible, for day trips or picking and dropping research scientists off. I knew then that was the line of work I wanted to do. From then on, I was more interested and always asked questions as to what was going on, so I could learn more about the work and the environment.

Subantarctic fur seal © National Geographic Pristine Seas.

I’m a guardian of the Atlantic Ocean
The aim of the Atlantic Guardians project is to build a strong and sustainable foundation for our MPZ, through a range of management, science, community engagement, communications and global outreach activities. It’s also to help us Tristanians manage our marine environment so we can benefit from both: having a marine protection regime yet still being able to harvest from the ocean in a sustainable way.

The work we do is essential for our marine environment here on Tristan. No one knows what the future holds and what lies ahead for us (from climate change and pollution), so by making changes and protecting our environment now we may prevent forthcoming obstacles. Through my work on the Atlantic Guardians project I engage with the community through different activities and also give presentations, this is so that they can learn more about the MPZ and what it entails and provides for our island. Some of the upcoming work I will be involved in are capturing the marine histories from the island elders, trips to Nightingale island and observing the work happening from the boats.

My passion lies in the fieldwork, as I prefer to be outdoors. I’m particularly interested in the bird life. My favorite is the Nightingale bunting, due to its shyness. I enjoy sitting and observing them as they fly around. My chosen place to go is Nightingale, I truly love it there and it’s an experience you can only fully understand after a visit.

I consider myself a guardian of the Atlantic and my advice to others would be:

“If a community of 250 people can reach such an outcome, considering we live on the most remote inhabited island in the world, others can also make a difference and take action to protect the environment they live in”.

Underwater Tristan da Cunha © Sue Scott.

Find out more about Atlantic Guardians
To find out more about visit the Atlantic Guardians website. Follow @AtlanticGuardians #AtlanticGuardians on Instagram, and on Facebook to keep up to date with the work happening on the ground alongside upcoming activities.

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