How This Organization Is Helping Millions Of Endangered Turtles Safely Reach A Small Atlantic Island
Each year, nearly 15,000 female green sea turtles begin the long trip from the eastern shores of Brazil to the small island of Ascension – an isolated island in the South Atlantic located almost 2,300 kilometers (about 1,400 miles).
These turtles are coming back where they were born, migrating to lay their eggs on the beaches of this 88 square kilometer island. Their young, once hatched, will make the same journey every three to four years between the shores of Rio de Janeiro and Ascension.
Ascension Island is the second most populous green sea turtle breeding ground in the Atlantic Ocean, but overfishing, climate change and ocean pollution are just some of the factors threatening the endangered green sea turtle throughout of his journey to this distant shrine.
Each year, the nesting sites of Ascension Island witness the laying of millions of eggs as green sea turtles descend on its shores. The island sits atop a 10,000ft underwater volcano located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, one of the longest mountain ranges in the world, home to unique seabird species critical to the island ecosystem.
Classified as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, the small volcanic island is part of an area with an “exclusive economic zone” covering nearly 445,000 square kilometers — almost the size of France. Also home to the largest Atlantic blue marlin on record, large colonies of birds and a dozen species of fish found nowhere else on Earth, Ascension Island has largely avoided intensive commercial fishing due to its remoteness.
But nowhere in the ocean, or in the world, is there sheltered from the impacts of climate change, and the crisis – coupled with overfishing – has endangered the survival of green sea turtles. This is the very reason why tens of thousands of citizens around the world have taken action in support of an initiative to protect the oceans surrounding Ascension Island.
Overfishing drives climate change
Ahead of the 2016 Global Citizen Festival, 30,000 Global Citizens took action to support the Blue Marine Foundation — an organization dedicated to restoring the health of the oceans by fighting overfishing and promoting conservation. Blue Marine, as part of the Great British Oceans Coalition, called on then British Prime Minister David Cameron to push the government to step up ocean protection measures surrounding overseas territories, including Ascension Island.
Historically, Taiwanese and Japanese boats fished mainly in the waters off Ascension, catching huge tuna and many bycatch, including sharks, for little financial gain at the expense of endangered marine life. .
In February, the latest report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we were running out of time to take urgent action against climate change and protect our oceans, citing overfishing as a key driver of climate change.
Overfishing leads to biodiversity loss through the destruction of the ocean basin, as well as the aimless destruction of “biomass” of fish and endangered species. This fish biomass stores and protects the global atmosphere for up to 38,000 gigatonnes of carbon emissions – more than the rainforests of the earth. A large number of offshore species, such as bluefin tuna and oceanic whitetip sharks, have been overfished at Ascension.
Climate change and overfishing, even far from the small island, have harmed its fragile ecosystems, reducing the nutritional quality of fish eaten by local bird colonies. Today, local seabird colonies have declined by 80%.
But by protecting large swathes of ocean and demonstrating that it is possible to have a thriving community at the center of a vast marine protected area, Ascension is helping to reverse the tide of climate change.
In 2016, half of the waters of Ascension were closed to fishing. Then in 2019, Ascension Island declared 100% of its waters a marine protected area, with a total ban on commercial fishing at sea.
Citizens of the world take action to support the Blue Marine Foundation
To end extreme poverty and achieve United Nations global goals, such as Goal 14 to protect life below water, Global Citizen campaigns to protect the oceans and the communities that depend on them for survival.
The Blue Marine Foundation assignment is to see at least 30% of the world’s oceans under protection by 2030 and the remaining 70% managed in a responsible way that promotes a “a healthy ocean forever, for all.”
Global Citizens took action in 2016 to support the Great British Oceans Coalition’s campaign to help preserve the waters of Ascension Island, knowing that key strategic interventions could help communities at the forefront of ocean conservation. With 6.8 million square kilometers of territorial waters, Britain is the guardian of the fifth largest marine domain on the planet.
Blue Marine and the Great British Oceans Coalition have worked with the Ascension Island Government and the UK Government to secure the second largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Atlantic. No-take MPAs are rare areas where the destruction of natural resources is completely prohibited, according to National Geographic.
Today Ascension Island is supported today by a £2m ($2.4m) endowment fund raised by the Blue Marine Foundation, replacing income the island was receiving previously from the sale of licenses to longliners fishing in the waters of Ascension. While the UK government’s ‘Blue Belt’ scheme monitors and enforces the waters to ensure no illegal fishing takes place in the Exclusive Economic Zone.
As a result, Ascension Island becomes a safe haven for the green turtle. Out of a thousand turtle hatchlings, only one will reach adulthood, but those who do can safely return to the island to start families of their own.
You can join the Global Citizen campaign to end extreme poverty and take climate action NOW by taking action here. Be part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action with governments, corporations and philanthropists to bring about change.
Global Citizen thanks the Blue Marine Foundation for his ongoing efforts to protect our planet and the most vulnerable communities affected by climate change.