To mark World Oceans Day (8 June) we’re following the journey of Janine Lavarello, Marine Protection Officer from Tristan da Cunha as she visits the four seas in the UK to learn more about marine conservation.
Janine works for the Tristan da Cunha Government and is supported by the RSPB and the Blue Nature Alliance through the Atlantic Guardians project.
Over the past 6 months I have been travelling across the UK, learning about marine conservation and exploring UK marine environments and seas to gain knowledge and experiences I can take back to my remote island community in the South Atlantic.
I’ve been learning about a range of things from fisheries enforcement and sea survival techniques in the south west to studying marine ecology in the north east. For me this experience has been eye opening, especially making comparisons with Tristan’s near pristine marine environment with penguins, albatross, and Fur Seals.
As someone who has grown up surrounded by the ocean, I find that being close to the sea is integral to me. During my trip to the UK I’ve managed to visit four of the UK seas including the Atlantic, English Channel, North Sea and Irish Sea!
Enforcement from illegal fishing in the English Channel
At home in Tristan da Cunha our waters, although protected, are still vulnerable to illegal fishing activities, so I visited Plymouth, where I undertook enforcement training and vessel inspections and I spent time shadowing the Devon and Severn Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authorities.
Before I was allowed to board the vessels in Plymouth, I had to undertake my sea survival techniques which was very extreme! I had to jump from the boat into the water which was a three metre drop whilst wearing a bulky survival suit and life jacket which I could barely move in!
Learning to sail
A useful skill to have on a remote island is knowing how to sail a boat so you can support with fishing and monitoring activities so I completed a Level 2 Powerboat Course with the Royal Yachting Association in Brixham. I’m particularly pleased to be one of the first women on our island with a powerboat qualification and I hope this will inspire the next generation!
Visiting a lobster hatchery – Lobster fishing is our livelihood
On Tristan our economy and livelihood depend on the sustainable fishing of Rock Lobster which we export to South Africa to be served in restaurants all over the world. To understand lobsters in the UK I visited the lobster hatchery in Padstow, working with the technical team carrying out some daily tasks which included water quality testing, movement of lobster and pre-releasing.
It was interesting for me to learn about the UK efforts to increase the lobster stocks by releasing juveniles into the ocean. On Tristan we have plentiful lobster stocks thanks to our near pristine marine environment and our strong conservation measures.
Comparing our marine environments
On Tristan we have boulder beaches, rock pools, giant kelp forest and underwater volcanoes, called seamounts. The abundance of marine life is amazing from sponges, starfish and whelks to creatures of the deep yet to be discovered! To learn more about marine biology I’m studying with the University of Newcastle, and attended a fieldtrip as part of my course. I undertook surveys on the rocky shore, sediment sampling and visited the Farne Islands in the North Sea which was incredible and I was very happy to see a Puffin for the first time!
Whilst with family in North Wales I got to explore the rocky shores of the Irish Sea and tested my organism identification skills on what different species I found on the shores. Some of them were Beadlet Anemone, Limpets, Barnacles, Dog Whelks and so many different kelp species.
Seeting the King and speaking in Westminster
Throughout my trip I’ve had the chance to do many amazing things – including things on land!
As a representative of the Tristan da Cunha Government I was invited to attend a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace and saw King Charles III and Queen Camilla and admired the beautiful garden, band and tried the excellent cakes!
There have been times when I’ve felt as if I had been thrown in the deep end! I was invited to a high profile event at Portcullis House, Parliamentary offices in Westminster to join a panel discussion entitled ‘UK Overseas Territories; Environmental Superpowers’, with panellist representatives including the Minister of Environment (Gibraltar), Minister for Sustainability, Innovation and the Environment, (Anguilla), Cayman Islands Premier and Premier of Montserrat.
This was a high-level panel, and there I was, a normal worker on the front line of ocean conservation. But it’s at events like these where I get the chance to speak and tell the story of my community and all the amazing hard work we are doing with such limited resources. I shared some of the biggest challenges we face around invasive species, ocean pollution and extreme weather due to climate change. Some of our challenges on a remote island the rest world don’t really know about or even experience so it was good to remind others about the issues remote places are struggling with.
Missing island life
On this journey I have learnt so much from community outreach, to ways we can make our island more functional and healthier moving forward but I’ve also realised that I have so much to be thankful for living on my little volcanic island in the South Atlantic.
We may not get to see the finer things in life (such as shopping malls, takeaways, entertainment, total convenience!) but our remoteness is our greatest gem meaning Tristan is a safe haven for many species and being so far away is what keeps them from exploitation, from Avian Flu that has been killing vast quantities of seabirds, or the polluted waters some animals live in, not forgetting how many species are threatened with extinction from being killed or overfished. Thankfully Tristan da Cunha’s ambitious Marine Protection Zone protecting 690,000km2of our pristine environment and covering 91% of our water will help keep our oceans healthy and thriving.
Sharing the story of our community
Another thing I have learnt is that not many people know about Tristan da Cunha or that we even exist. Whenever I go to a new place and people ask, ‘Where are you from?’ I say ‘Tristan da Cunha’ they will reply ‘Where’s that?’ And there I go again sharing stories about my island and our conservation work over again!
I have been so privileged on this trip to be able to tell the world about my community and our remarkable journey of marine conservation, but also to hear about the work in the UK and in all the other UK Overseas Territories and what each one of us is achieving.
I believe that it’s because of the bold steps taken by small communities on remote islands that marine protected areas are moving forward in UK waters. We’re proud to be leading the way and showing how crucial our sustainable fishing and no-take areas are for the future of our oceans, wildlife and livelihoods.