International marine conservation organisation Mission Blue officially recognised St Helena’s Marine Protected Area as a Hope Spot. Hope Spots are recognised as special places, being one of a kind areas of ocean that are scientifically identified for their uniqueness, and most importantly their community’s contribution and efforts in maintaining or improving global ocean health.
St Helena was nominated as a Hope Spot by two champions, the Director of the St Helena National Trust Helena Bennett and Director of Global Policy at Georgia Aquarium Dr Dayne Buddo. This nomination was supported by St Helena Government.
St Helena is honoured that Mission Blue has assessed St Helena’s efforts to safeguard our ocean and recognised us as a Hope Spot.
It also means that St Helena joins an ocean network of 156 Hope Spots around the world. These cover a combined near 60,000,000km2 of ocean, stretching from the Antarctica to the Arctic, and includes our sister island of Ascension.
This recognition follows a significant 20 year journey for St Helena in understanding and protecting the Island’s marine environment. It began with projects initially assessing whales, dolphins and birds, as well as undertaking basic fisheries science to build a baseline of knowledge and understanding. In 2012 St Helena Government started to consider a potential Marine Protected Area (MPA) designation. Between 2012 and 2016 various scientific programs were undertaken in collaboration with Island users and stakeholders, considering the social impacts of designation.
This ultimately led to 100% of St Helena’s near 450,000km2 Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) being designated as an IUCN Category VI sustainable use MPA in 2016, along with the publication of the Island’s first Marine Management Plan.
By comparison, only 8% of the world’s oceans are currently designated as MPAs, with under 3% being highly protected. This is set amid a backdrop where are our oceans have never been more at threat, from challenges including the impacts of climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and illegal fishing.
Following designation of the MPA, significant work has been ongoing to improve the understanding of the territory’s marine environment. This has been made possible by working closely with a variety of external partners and funders, such as the UK Government Darwin Initiative, the Blue Marine Foundation, the International Pole and Line Foundation and Georgia Aquarium.
Since 2016, St Helena has been fortunate to be a part of the UK Government’s Blue Belt Programme, which supports the Overseas Territories with the protection and sustainable management of their marine estates. The programme has provided significant funding and capacity to St Helena. This has catapulted St Helena’s science and research, in turn providing the evidence that underpins the MPAs management measures and the newly implemented 2023 Marine Management Plan.
In 2018, the St Helena National Trust with support from the Blue Marine Foundation, extended its advocacy of the Island’s natural heritage to include marine based conservation, education and outreach. The trust continues conservation monitoring of key marine species such as whale sharks and seabirds, promoting sustainable fisheries and the reduction of plastics and marine debris, contributing further evidence to underpin the Marine Management Plan.
This work, combined with St Helena’s distinctive features, has now been assessed by a reputable internationally recognised organisation who are to call St Helena a Hope Spot.
Many MPAs are designated in an effort to restore that area to a functional and thriving condition as a result of previous damage. St Helena’s marine environment remains in near pristine condition, and the community of St Helena is rightly proud to keep watch over an area that provides inspiration to others.
St Helena’s unique characteristics, most notably its remoteness and historic limited human pressures, has not only created unique habitats but also distinct assemblages of species. St Helena’s MPA attracts highly migratory and globally significant animals such as tuna, whale sharks and humpback whales.
St Helena has undertaken every reasonable effort within its control to ensure marine uses limit human pressure in order to deliver sustainability, even as marine tourism becomes more popular in reflection of St Helena’s amazing natural environment. For example:
- One by one fishing practices are permitted for certain key species, and unselective fishing methods are prohibited.
- Total allowable catch limits and size limits are in place.
- Robust wildlife and habitat interaction rules have been put in place, balancing the education and enjoyment of marine users against the need to safeguard our habitats and species for the future.
Dr Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, said:
“This marine protected area and new hope spot of nearly half a million square miles now faces pressures largely outside its control from rapidly changing climate, invasive species and pollution. By becoming a Hope Spot, St Helena can act as a beacon to the rest of the world. Although geographically isolated, it is deeply ecologically connected to many distant realms, and indeed, other Hope Spots.”
Director of St Helena National Trust, Helena Bennett, said:
“The ocean has a way of enchanting us, capturing our imagination and intriguing us with mysteries of the unexplored. Our Island and its surrounding waters are steeped in our culture and traditions, and have played a massive role in our history’s timeline since our island’s discovery in 1502, evolving our way with a sense of nostalgia and a feeling of belonging and home.”
UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Minister David Rutley said:
“St Helena is home to a range of unique marine species and habitats creating breath-taking coastal and underwater sceneries. I’m proud to see St Helena’s MPA designated as a ‘hope spot’, this speaks to the fantastic working collaborations St Helena has with its local community, Government and NGOs in creating ocean conservation consciousness through sustainable use.”
“The UK’s landmark Blue Belt Programme has also enabled positive lasting change for the island, through its facilitation of a range of support covering innovative science initiatives such as, the deployment of a network of underwater cameras to help observe and quantify ocean wildlife, a purpose-built marine laboratory to ensure evidence-based management of habitats and species is undertaken supported by a robust policy, legislation, education and enforcement. An exemplar of creating positive change for the protection of the marine environment for the rest of the world”.
Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Planning, Christine Scipio, said:
“As a community we are rightly proud of our unique marine environment, which is reflected in how we approach our stewardship of it. We’ve spent the last 20 years developing our knowledge of our special waters and ensuring we only permit the most sustainable of practices within our MPA. We’re delighted that Mission Blue has recognised St Helena as a Hope Spot, and hope that we can act as an example to the rest of the world of what can be achieved despite your size and limited resources.”
Graham Sim, former Fisheries Officer and long term advocate for St Helena’s marine environment, said:
“The thing about it is, and I don’t know why, there is something about the ocean that I have always been attracted to. St Helena is in a unique position and has come a long way with the conservation and protection of the marine environment, with the local younger generations being much more aware of the need to protect the ocean, giving us all hope for the future. But, there is a lot that still needs to be done here, and elsewhere, and we need to keep focused on what is required to protect our beloved oceans.”
More information about the Hope Spot network can be found online at www.missionblue.org/hope-spots.
The life of a Great White Shark
The great white shark, known scientifically as Carcharodon carcharias, embodies the apex predator of the ocean. This majestic creature’s life is a testament to survival, adaptability, and the intricate balance of the marine ecosystem.
Born in the waters off coastal regions, a great white shark begins its life as a pup within the safety of nurseries, typically found in warm, shallow waters. The pups, measuring around 5 feet in length at birth, are immediately equipped with an innate instinct for survival.
As they grow, great whites embark on a journey, venturing into deeper and cooler waters, often covering vast distances across the ocean. These apex predators are perfectly adapted hunters, relying on their impressive senses to detect prey. Their acute sense of smell, aided by specialized sensory organs known as ampullae of Lorenzini, helps detect the faintest traces of blood in the water from several miles away.
Feeding primarily on seals, sea lions, and other marine mammals, great whites are known for their powerful jaws lined with rows of razor-sharp teeth. Their hunting techniques often involve stealth, utilizing their streamlined bodies to approach prey from below and striking with incredible speed and force.
Despite their fearsome reputation, great whites play a crucial role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems. As top predators, they help regulate the population of prey species, preventing overpopulation that could disrupt the balance of the food chain.
Reproduction among great white sharks is a slow and careful process. Females reach sexual maturity between 12 and 18 years of age, while males mature earlier, around 9 to 10 years old. Mating occurs through complex courtship rituals, with females giving birth to a small number of live pups after a gestation period of about 12 to 18 months.
However, the life of a great white shark is not without challenges. Human activities, including overfishing, pollution, and habitat destruction, pose significant threats to their population. Additionally, despite their formidable presence, great whites are vulnerable and face dangers from entanglement in fishing gear and accidental bycatch.
Despite these challenges, great white sharks continue to inspire awe and fascination among scientists and nature enthusiasts. Their presence in the ocean serves as a reminder of the delicate balance and interconnectedness of marine life, emphasizing the need for conservation efforts to protect these magnificent creatures for future generations to admire and study.
Want to learn more about sharks? Visit The Shark Trust website: www.sharktrust.org
Book Review: Sea Mammals
This is a book packed with information about some of the most iconic and charismatic marine species. I have a particular soft spot for the pinnipeds, seals and sea lions, due to some incredible diving encounters over the years. So these were the pages I first turned to.
Once picked up this book is hard to put down. Polar Bears, Narwhal, Sea Otters, manatees, whales and dolphins adorn the pages with beautiful photographs and illustrations. Each turn of the page lures you in to discover more about a species you love, one you want to learn more about, some you have never heard of and even includes the details of fascinating animals that are sadly now extinct.
I think what I love most about this book is how it is organised. Rather than simply lump the animals into taxonomic groupings, they are put into chapters that tell you a story about them. Whether it is the story of their evolution, how they were discovered, their biology, behaviour or need for conservation. Once you have decided on an animal to delve deeper into, each species has its own story, as well as key information about size, diet, distribution, habitat and conservation status.
There is plenty to enjoy in this delightful book. Plenty to learn too. As the cold dark nights draw in, I can see myself delving into this book time and time again. This is a perfect gift for anyone that loves the ocean and its inhabitants. Or just treat yourself.
What the publisher says:
From the gregarious sea otter and playful dolphins to the sociable narwhal and iconic polar bear, sea mammals are a large, diverse, and increasingly precious group. In this book, Annalisa Berta, a leading expert on sea mammals and their evolution, presents an engaging and richly illustrated introduction to past and present species of these remarkable creatures, from the blue whale and the northern fur seal to the extinct giant sperm whale, aquatic sloth, and walking sea cow.
The book features more than 50 individual species profiles, themed chapters, stunning photographs, and specially commissioned paleo-illustrations of extinct species. It presents detailed accounts of these mammals’ evolutionary path, anatomy, behavior, habitats, and conservation. And because these are key species that complete many food chains and have the widest influence of all sea life, the book also offers insights into a broad variety of marine worlds today and in the future.
About the Author:
Annalisa Berta is professor emerita of biology at San Diego State University. A specialist in the anatomy and evolutionary biology of marine mammals, especially baleen whales, she formally described a skeleton of the early pinniped Enaliarctos. She is the author of Return to the Sea: The Life and Evolutionary Times of Marine Mammals and the editor of the award-winning Whales, Dolphins, and Porpoises: A Natural History and Species Guide.
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Published: 26th September, 2023
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