Today we’re celebrating the three-year anniversary of the Tristan da Cunha Marine Protection Zone (MPZ), the largest no-take zone in the Atlantic Ocean.

In this article Janine Lavarello, Marine Protection Zone Officer, Tristan da Cunha Government covers what the world’s most remote island community have been doing since the MPZ designation to safeguard their marine environment.

In 2020 the Tristan community 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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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 and Tasmania.

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!

Sustainable fishing

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 fishing agency licenced by the Tristan da Cunha Government run an offshore fishing factory freezer vessel and process factory on Tristan. The community have been reviewing their concession agreement and have visited seafood and fishing companies in Australia and Tasmania to exchange knowledge and best practice.

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 (MPA) in the Atlantic Ocean, 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 MPZ

With the support of the whole community we 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 raise the profile of our MPZ.

Northern Rockhopper Penguin (c) Trevor Glass
Northern Rockhopper Penguin (c) Trevor Glass
Traditional dingy longboat built by the elder members of the Tristan community (c) Emil Pirzenthal
Traditional dingy longboat built by the elder members of the Tristan community (c) Emil Pirzenthal
Children on Tristan da Cunha learning to snorkel © Emil Pirzenthal
Children on Tristan da Cunha learning to snorkel © Emil Pirzenthal
Members of the Tristan da Cunha community fishing for Rock Lobster © Janine Lavarello
Members of the Tristan da Cunha community fishing for Rock Lobster © Janine Lavarello
Tristan da Cunha Marine Protection Zone includes a 690,000km2 no-take zone and sustainable fishing zones around the islands © Atlantic Guardians
Tristan da Cunha Marine Protection Zone includes a 690,000km2 no-take zone and sustainable fishing zones around the islands © Atlantic Guardians

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

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Members of the Tristan community shared what the ocean means to them in this video message.

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