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2765Yesterday's Westminster Hall Debate on Environmental Sustainability in the OTs

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  • Bob Conrich
    May 9, 2014
    • 0 Attachment
      Below are those parts of yesterday's debate that pertain directly to the Ascension,
      St. Helena and Tristan.

      We not only learn of secret meetings but of secret bird species:
      "earlier this week we were speaking to officials from Tristan da Cunha about the islands’
      biosecurity needs and the exciting news that a new bird species may have been identified on one of
      the islands. I am told that it is a prion and similar to a kiwi. We await peer review of that new
      discovery."

      What would happen if the whole world knew about this possible discovery, and even
      saw photos of this alleged new bird? Only in Tristan is such secrecy acceptable.

      Those with an interest in government, politics or the environment may wish to
      read the full debate, which may be found at:
      http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2014-05-08a.157.0&s=%22diego+garcia%22#g166.0


      Bob


      -----------------------------------------------------------
      Robert S. Conrich, ACIArb
      Box 666
      Anguilla bob@...
      British West Indies Tel: 1 264 497 2505
      -----------------------------------------------------------



      Zac Goldsmith (Richmond Park, Conservative)

      It is a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Benton. I will be quick. I congratulate Joan
      Walley on her opening remarks and her brilliant chairmanship of the Committee, of which I am proud
      to be a member. I will focus briefly on marine protected areas, which were a significant part of the
      report that we put together.

      As Members will know, the oceans are under unprecedented pressure. It is estimated that 90% of all
      large fish are gone and that 15 of the world’s 17 large fisheries either have collapsed or are on
      the brink of collapse. A recent study published in Science magazine predicted that all the world’s
      fisheries will collapse by 2048 if current trends are allowed to continue. That matters for many
      different reasons—for biodiversity reasons, clearly, but also from a human point of view. One
      billion people depend on fish as their primary source of protein and 200 million depend indirectly
      on fishing as a source of livelihood, yet we continue to ravage the systems that provide fish,
      including one third of all mangroves, which we must not forget are the breeding ground for 85% of
      commercial fish. Only 5%—the true figure is probably less—of coral reefs are considered pristine
      nowadays. There is a lot that we need to do.

      I will skip through the issues, such the lawlessness of the high seas, the fact that 1% of the
      world’s fleets are responsible for catching 50% of the world’s fish, and the fact that there are
      fishing lines that would stretch all the way from Westminster to Brighton and 10 billion hooks
      floating around the oceans. I will assume that Members agree that it is impossible to reconcile
      those tools of destruction with any hope of a sustainable future for our oceans.

      I will focus on marine protected areas, because notwithstanding the remarks made by Jeremy Corbyn,
      they are the easiest, quickest and least controversial way of protecting the oceans. We know that
      marine protected areas work. During world war two, when fishing was prevented in the Atlantic, fish
      populations soared incredibly quickly. Spain has a terrible record on fishing around the world, but
      catches close to the famous Tabarca marine reserve, the country’s first, are 85% higher than
      elsewhere after just six years of protection. There are many other examples, which I am afraid I
      will not be able to mention.

      Governments have agreed, as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent North mentioned, an international
      target of protecting 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020, but progress has been incredibly slow,
      with less than 3% being given any protection at all and only 1% any real protection. That is
      depressing, but the good news is that we do not have to wait for international action or
      international agreement. The UK is in a position to show leadership, with or without our
      international partners. We have the fifth largest and the most diverse marine zone in the world—6.8
      million sq km, comprising nearly 2% of the world’s oceans—and the vast majority of it is in the UK
      overseas territories, which between them harbour 90% of UK biodiversity.

      Our report makes it clear that UK overseas territories are calling on the UK Government to help them
      to establish marine protected areas, and of course we must., Notwithstanding some of the comments
      that we just heard, we have made some progress, including the designation in 2010 of the British
      Indian Ocean Territory as the world’s largest fully protected marine reserve. However, we must
      consider three more hugely important territories: Pitcairn, Ascension and South Georgia and the
      South Sandwich Islands.

      The Pitcairn Islands are, as many hon. Members will know, remote and neither polluted nor
      overfished. Their fish populations, including of top predators such as sharks, are healthy, and they
      have some of the best coral reefs in the world. They have intact deep-sea habitats and many species
      new to science. At present, they are totally unprotected and unpoliced, and it is only a matter of
      time before the area is devastated. A marine sanctuary there would be celebrated globally as one of
      the most significant conservation measures ever taken by any Government. The Pitcairns submitted a
      proposal to the Foreign Office last year for a highly protected marine reserve, which was supported
      unanimously by their population.

      The second obvious opportunity is South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, which are
      uninhabited, so we would struggle to get the lottery machines there, although we could probably put
      a symbolic one there, just to get through the ridiculous legalistic response by the Government to
      that proposal. The islands have a vast marine area that is recognised worldwide for the importance
      of its wildlife. Home to more than 100 million seabirds and half the world’s population of southern
      elephant seals, it is one of the world’s most diverse and scientifically significant regions on the
      planet. The islands have already been identified as a priority for protection by the convention on
      the conservation of Antarctic marine living resources. A large-scale, fully protected marine reserve
      could be implemented with only a minor impact on current fishing or fishery income.

      The third opportunity—I would go so far as to say that it is a golden opportunity—is Ascension
      Island, which lies in the middle of the rich equatorial waters of the south Atlantic. It is the peak
      of a gigantic undersea volcano. It holds the second largest green turtle nesting site in the
      Atlantic and is one of the most important tropical seabird breeding stations in the world. Its
      waters are full of significant populations of big ocean predators, including tuna, dolphins, sharks
      and marlin. A review of management options for Ascension’s maritime area is already under way, so
      the UK Government have an opportunity right now to declare a large and highly protected marine
      conservation area.

      Politically, those steps are relatively easy and can happen incredibly quickly. The difficulty is,
      of course, in policing and enforcement, which inevitably come with some cost, but it is not clear
      how much. I believe that Pew told the Select Committee that the cost of policing Pitcairn would be
      around £600,000 per annum. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands already have enforcement
      capability provided through a dedicated patrol ship, periodic visits from the Royal Navy, and
      occasional overflights by the Royal Air Force, while UK Government vessels regularly visit
      Ascension. Clearly we need a step change to improve monitoring, with proper vessel monitoring
      systems as mentioned earlier, and advances in remote sensing and satellite technology. That can come
      in time. To use a cliché, we cannot allow the best to become the enemy of the good.

      Given their importance to nature and human livelihoods, the proven and unarguable benefits of MPAs,
      the fact that we have it in our power today to create the world’s largest fully protected marine
      reserves, and that even the more extravagant costs associated with protecting those sites represent
      only the tiniest fraction of the annual funding of the Department for International Development,
      that surely represents good value for money. Here is a golden opportunity for the Government; they
      just have to stop dragging their feet and take the opportunity.


      .............................................................


      Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour)

      First, I fully support the comments made by Zac Goldsmith and the report’s recommendations about the
      need for urgent action to declare marine protected areas around the Pitcairns, South Georgia and the
      South Sandwich Islands, as well as Tristan da Cunha, as identified in the report. I should declare
      an interest: I understand that the principal settlement of Tristan da Cunha is called Edinburgh of
      the Seven Seas and one of the former settlements on South Georgia is called Leith Harbour, so as the
      Member of Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith, I feel that I have a particular interest. I make
      that point to emphasise our historical role and responsibility for these areas. We chose to take
      them on as colonial possessions over the centuries, and we now have a responsibility to those
      communities and areas, and to the wider world community, to recognise their importance to the
      environment of the world. That is why I support the declaration of MPAs. I hope that the Minister
      will ensure that the Department moves with more speed on MPAs, and take up the interesting proposals
      circulated to us by Pew and National Geographic, which indicate some possible ways forward.

      :: snip ::


      ..............................................................


      Kerry McCarthy (Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs); Bristol East, Labour)

      :: snip ::

      As the report sets out, the total population of the territories combined is just 250,000, but the
      countries account for some 90% of the biodiversity for which the UK Government have responsibility.
      There is an amazing range of biodiversity, encompassing vast expanses of ocean, thousands of coral
      atolls, tropical forests and polar areas. As we have heard, the OTs support unique and sensitive
      ecosystems and habitats of international importance, and are subject to significant threats. The
      report highlights how the UK still lacks a basic overview of these environments. The RSPB has set
      out how that lack of knowledge means that extinctions of species, such as the St Helena olive tree
      in 2003, which was the last global extinction, continue. The RSPB said that that was largely due to
      a lack of attention.

      :: snip ::

      I have heard reports that a few companies may be prospecting around the continental shelves of a few
      of the isolated islands in the south Pacific and south Atlantic, with a view to possible deep-sea
      mining. Are the Government aware of any interest in deep-sea mining in the overseas territories,
      have they had any discussions with companies considering that, and how do they see deep-sea mining
      working sustainably—or not—in parallel with marine environments?

      It is a shame that Zac Goldsmith was cut short in his remarks on marine protected areas. I think he
      knows that we share very similar views on the topic. With regard to Pitcairn, I had the pleasure of
      meeting two of the islanders—Simon Young and Melva Warren Evans—when they were over in Parliament a
      while ago. We were shown an absolutely fantastic film demonstrating just how pristine and unexplored
      much of the marine environment is around the islands. As was said, the islanders unanimously want a
      marine protected area. That is their decision. It would make Pitcairn the largest fully protected
      marine reserve in the world and would contribute 2.5% towards achieving the global commitment made
      under the convention on biological diversity—Aichi target 11, which was mentioned. Will the Minister
      at least advise us whether there is likely to be a decision on that before the next election? I will
      not talk more generally about marine protected areas, as my hon. Friends have already done so, but I
      flag up the calls for marine protected areas around Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha, and for
      better protection around South Georgia and the Sandwich Islands.


      ................................................................


      George Eustice (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs;
      Camborne and Redruth, Conservative)


      The second issue that I want to touch on is that of staff, because several hon. Members have
      suggested that DEFRA has no one dedicated to this subject. In fact, there are four DEFRA staff
      working on overseas territories issues, and they include the head of our international biodiversity
      policy unit. The report suggested that there should be more visits by DEFRA staff to the overseas
      territories. I am sure that there would be no shortage of volunteers to undertake those visits to
      see the wonderful specimens of wildlife that we have there, but I question the value of spending
      money on air fares when we could be spending money on projects that will deliver and will enhance
      the biodiversity of these areas. Also, not carrying out physical visits to these areas does not mean
      that they are not in regular contact with their counterparts in the territories. They certainly are.
      For instance, earlier this week we were speaking to officials from Tristan da Cunha about the
      islands’ biosecurity needs and the exciting news that a new bird species may have been identified on
      one of the islands. I am told that it is a prion and similar to a kiwi. We await peer review of that
      new discovery.



      [The DEFRA Junior Minister's response elicited a private comment to me that it was
      "a pedestrian performance which largely parroted language from the HMG response to
      the EAC report. There was no attempt to respond to points made during the debate.
      The only new points were a reference to meeting the previous week with Tristan
      representatives and to there being active discussions with three territories." Bob]


      ...............................................................


      Matthew Offord (Hendon, Conservative)

      :: snip ::

      I urge the Government to consider investing to prevent biodiversity loss in the overseas
      territories, as it would make a direct and cost-effective contribution to meeting the UK’s
      international commitments under the CBD. The UK could make a significant contribution to achieving
      Aichi biodiversity target 11 by declaring new marine protected areas around the Pitcairn Islands,
      Tristan da Cunha, and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The Government have missed a
      significant opportunity in their response to the Committee’s report, but there is still time to take
      the action we have set out.


      ..................................................................


      Mark Lazarowicz (Edinburgh North and Leith, Labour)

      First, I fully support the comments made by Zac Goldsmith and the report’s recommendations about the
      need for urgent action to declare marine protected areas around the Pitcairns, South Georgia and the
      South Sandwich Islands, as well as Tristan da Cunha, as identified in the report. I should declare
      an interest: I understand that the principal settlement of Tristan da Cunha is called Edinburgh of
      the Seven Seas and one of the former settlements on South Georgia is called Leith Harbour, so as the
      Member of Parliament for Edinburgh North and Leith, I feel that I have a particular interest. I make
      that point to emphasise our historical role and responsibility for these areas. We chose to take
      them on as colonial possessions over the centuries, and we now have a responsibility to those
      communities and areas, and to the wider world community, to recognise their importance to the
      environment of the world. That is why I support the declaration of MPAs. I hope that the Minister
      will ensure that the Department moves with more speed on MPAs, and take up the interesting proposals
      circulated to us by Pew and National Geographic, which indicate some possible ways forward.

      :: snip ::


      .....................................................................




      The third opportunity—I would go so far as to say that it is a golden opportunity—is Ascension
      Island, which lies in the middle of the rich equatorial waters of the south Atlantic. It is the peak
      of a gigantic undersea volcano. It holds the second largest green turtle nesting site in the
      Atlantic and is one of the most important tropical seabird breeding stations in the world. Its
      waters are full of significant populations of big ocean predators, including tuna, dolphins, sharks
      and marlin. A review of management options for Ascension’s maritime area is already under way, so
      the UK Government have an opportunity right now to declare a large and highly protected marine
      conservation area.

      :: snip ::