“ The Blue Marine Foundation is proud to have played a part in the designation of the Chagos and in the coalition known as Great British Oceans that campaigned for the adoption of the “Blue Belts” commitment.”
© @ Paul Colley
With much of their work focused on areas of the Atlantic ocean, Official Race Charity Blue Marine Foundation are the perfect partner to The Transat bakerly 2016. Here Charles Clover, BLUE CEO, delves deeper into the charity’s latest efforts and causes.
Two narratives fight it out in the North Atlantic, like a tide flowing against the wind. The first is the Atlantic as a dangerous, untamed place, where only the strongest dare to venture – which in the case of the Transat Race remains true. Those who dared in the past would catch cod and swordfish, Bluefin tuna, right whales, skate and halibut as big as a man. The second narrative is the story of what Daniel Pauly and Jay Maclean, in their beautifully written book about the North Atlantic, “In a Perfect Ocean,” describe as a conquered realm, whose once vast reserves of cod, swordfish and bottom-living fish are damaged beyond rapid recovery.
The second narrative clashes with the first, as Pauly and Maclean, point out in the story of the Andrea Gail, the swordfishing vessel whose demise was chronicled in the major motion picture, The Perfect Storm. The Andrea Gail had been at sea for 38 days, six days sail from its own port, when it encountered the convergence of storms which sank her. Far below the surface of where the Andrea Gail might once have fished, the top of George’s Bank has been scraped smooth and the area has been closed to fishing because the cod there has suffered the same fate as in Newfoundland. Out beyond the banks, where the Andrea Gail was fishing at the extremities of her range, fishermen still burn more fuel and spend more time laying long-lines to hook smaller swordfish than they once did.
Improving technology has enabled fishermen to fish longer, deeper and in worse weather but it cannot create more fish. Bottom trawling is hugely damaging to marine life on the seabed, destroying complex habitats that can take decades, even centuries to recover. Fisheries management that imposes real limits on fishers is only a quarter century old and has proved glacially slow in producing results in Newfoundland and on Georges’ Bank. So setting up marine protected areas is regarded as one of the best insurance policies to protect seabed habitats and the mobile marine life they support for the benefit of fishermen and future generations. A process is under way to protect a unique area of ocean off the coast of New England – the coral canyons and seamount area around 150 miles south of Cape Cod - as the first-ever national monument in the Atlantic.
Meanwhile, eyes are on other places that might be protected for the benefit of the Atlantic Ocean as a whole, part of a global effort to protect 10 per cent of the oceans by 2020. Fertile ground lies around some of the many Atlantic islands that are British overseas territories, including Bermuda, Ascension, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and South Georgia. This was recognised in the present, Conservative government’s initiative to create “blue belts” around all 14 overseas territories – subject to local support - which will include a marine reserve around Pitcairn in the Pacific as well as the already designated one around the Chagos Archipelago, also known as the British Indian Ocean Territory.
The Blue Marine Foundation is proud to have played a part in the designation of the Chagos and in the coalition known as Great British Oceans that campaigned for the adoption of the “Blue Belts” commitment. But Blue Belts can only come about where motivated people want them. That is the challenge. Currently our focus is around Ascension, where local people would like their marine environment protected but have few external sources of revenue other than selling licences for catching bigeye tuna to the aggressive Taiwanese long-line fleet. Blue is discussing with the islanders a compromise in which part of Ascension’s waters are protected as a closed area, to protect seabirds, turtles and the unusually large fish which inhabit island waters, and part becomes a well-managed fishery operating to the best international standards.
Beyond that Blue would like to revive efforts to recognise the importance of the Sargasso Sea, the area of roughly 4 million km2 that is known as the floating golden rainforest of the North Atlantic. Separate species of eels from North America and Europe spawn there. But most of the Sargasso lies beyond territorial waters so ultimately protection relies on revising the UN law of the sea to create marine reserves in areas beyond national jurisdiction – a long haul, but one that is now under way.
Find out more at bluemarinefoundation.com