13 November 2023
Today, Monday 13 November 2023, international marine conservation organisation Mission Blue officially recognised St Helena’s Marine Protected Area as a Hope Spot. Hope Spots are recognised as special places, being one of a kind areas of ocean that are scientifically identified for their uniqueness, and most importantly their community’s contribution and efforts in maintaining or improving global ocean health.
St Helena was nominated as a Hope Spot by two champions, the Director of the St Helena National Trust Helena Bennett and Director of Global Policy at Georgia Aquarium Dr Dayne Buddo. This nomination was supported by St Helena Government.
St Helena is honoured that Mission Blue has assessed St Helena’s efforts to safeguard our ocean and recognised us as a Hope Spot.
It also means that St Helena joins an ocean network of 156 Hope Spots around the world. These cover a combined near 60,000,000km2 of ocean, stretching from the Antarctica to the Arctic, and includes our sister island of Ascension.
This recognition follows a significant 20 year journey for St Helena in understanding and protecting the Island’s marine environment. It began with projects initially assessing whales, dolphins and birds, as well as undertaking basic fisheries science to build a baseline of knowledge and understanding. In 2012 St Helena Government started to consider a potential Marine Protected Area (MPA) designation. Between 2012 and 2016 various scientific programs were undertaken in collaboration with Island users and stakeholders, considering the social impacts of designation.
This ultimately led to 100% of St Helena’s near 450,000km2 Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) being designated as an IUCN Category VI sustainable use MPA in 2016, along with the publication of the Island’s first Marine Management Plan.
By comparison, only 8% of the world’s oceans are currently designated as MPAs, with under 3% being highly protected. This is set amid a backdrop where are our oceans have never been more at threat, from challenges including the impacts of climate change, ocean acidification, pollution and illegal fishing.
Following designation of the MPA, significant work has been ongoing to improve the understanding of the territory’s marine environment. This has been made possible by working closely with a variety of external partners and funders, such as the UK Government Darwin Initiative, the Blue Marine Foundation, the International Pole and Line Foundation and Georgia Aquarium.
Since 2016, St Helena has been fortunate to be a part of the UK Government’s Blue Belt Programme, which supports the Overseas Territories with the protection and sustainable management of their marine estates. The programme has provided significant funding and capacity to St Helena. This has catapulted St Helena’s science and research, in turn providing the evidence that underpins the MPAs management measures and the newly implemented 2023 Marine Management Plan.
In 2018, the St Helena National Trust with support from the Blue Marine Foundation, extended its advocacy of the Island’s natural heritage to include marine based conservation, education and outreach. The trust continues conservation monitoring of key marine species such as whale sharks and seabirds, promoting sustainable fisheries and the reduction of plastics and marine debris, contributing further evidence to underpin the Marine Management Plan.
This work, combined with St Helena’s distinctive features, has now been assessed by a reputable internationally recognised organisation who are to call St Helena a Hope Spot.
Many MPAs are designated in an effort to restore that area to a functional and thriving condition as a result of previous damage. St Helena’s marine environment remains in near pristine condition, and the community of St Helena is rightly proud to keep watch over an area that provides inspiration to others.
St Helena’s unique characteristics, most notably its remoteness and historic limited human pressures, has not only created unique habitats but also distinct assemblages of species. St Helena’s MPA attracts highly migratory and globally significant animals such as tuna, whale sharks and humpback whales.
St Helena has undertaken every reasonable effort within its control to ensure marine uses limit human pressure in order to deliver sustainability, even as marine tourism becomes more popular in reflection of St Helena’s amazing natural environment. For example:
- One by one fishing practices are permitted for certain key species, and unselective fishing methods are prohibited.
- Total allowable catch limits and size limits are in place.
- Robust wildlife and habitat interaction rules have been put in place, balancing the education and enjoyment of marine users against the need to safeguard our habitats and species for the future.
Dr Sylvia Earle, founder of Mission Blue, said:
“This marine protected area and new hope spot of nearly half a million square miles now faces pressures largely outside its control from rapidly changing climate, invasive species and pollution. By becoming a Hope Spot, St Helena can act as a beacon to the rest of the world. Although geographically isolated, it is deeply ecologically connected to many distant realms, and indeed, other Hope Spots.”
Director of St Helena National Trust, Helena Bennett, said:
“The ocean has a way of enchanting us, capturing our imagination and intriguing us with mysteries of the unexplored. Our Island and its surrounding waters are steeped in our culture and traditions, and have played a massive role in our history’s timeline since our island’s discovery in 1502, evolving our way with a sense of nostalgia and a feeling of belonging and home.”
UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Minister David Rutley said:
“St Helena is home to a range of unique marine species and habitats creating breath-taking coastal and underwater sceneries. I’m proud to see St Helena’s MPA designated as a ‘hope spot’, this speaks to the fantastic working collaborations St Helena has with its local community, Government and NGOs in creating ocean conservation consciousness through sustainable use.”
“The UK’s landmark Blue Belt Programme has also enabled positive lasting change for the island, through its facilitation of a range of support covering innovative science initiatives such as, the deployment of a network of underwater cameras to help observe and quantify ocean wildlife, a purpose-built marine laboratory to ensure evidence-based management of habitats and species is undertaken supported by a robust policy, legislation, education and enforcement. An exemplar of creating positive change for the protection of the marine environment for the rest of the world”.
Minister for Environment, Natural Resources and Planning, Christine Scipio, said:
“As a community we are rightly proud of our unique marine environment, which is reflected in how we approach our stewardship of it. We’ve spent the last 20 years developing our knowledge of our special waters and ensuring we only permit the most sustainable of practices within our MPA. We’re delighted that Mission Blue has recognised St Helena as a Hope Spot, and hope that we can act as an example to the rest of the world of what can be achieved despite your size and limited resources.”
Graham Sim, former Fisheries Officer and long term advocate for St Helena’s marine environment, said:
“The thing about it is, and I don’t know why, there is something about the ocean that I have always been attracted to. St Helena is in a unique position and has come a long way with the conservation and protection of the marine environment, with the local younger generations being much more aware of the need to protect the ocean, giving us all hope for the future. But, there is a lot that still needs to be done here, and elsewhere, and we need to keep focused on what is required to protect our beloved oceans.”
Notes to Editors
St Helena lies in the south Atlantic, over 2,500km west of the Angolan coast, with its nearest neighbour, Ascension Island more than 1,000km away. It is host to one of the world’s largest MPAs. In 2023 SHG updated and published an ambitious five year Marine Management Plan, seeking to balance the sustainable use of St Helena’s marine environment against conserving what is a remarkably well preserved area of ocean compared to many other areas around the world.
Mission Blue was founded by marine pioneer and explorer Dr Sylvia Earle, following a TED talk she gave in 2009 where she first promoted the idea of marine Hope Spots. It attracted support and partnerships with National Geographic, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Rolex. Dr Sylvia Earle is a world renowned marine biologist and oceanographer, who has been at the forefront of marine conservation and exploration efforts for more than five decades. Mission Blue now campaigns for increased action to protect, preserve and restore the planet’s oceans. In 2015, St Helena’s sister island of Ascension was recognised as a Hope Spot, before going on to designate a near 440,000km2 MPA in 2019.
Since 2011 St Helena National Trust has been championing St Helena’s built, cultural and natural heritage. The trust is a charitable organisation funded by international programmes aiming to enhance the natural biodiversity and reduce man-made impacts on the environment. The trust encourages continuation of the island’s traditions revolving around the ocean, and serves to educate local and international communities on the unique and special animals and habitats that call St Helena home.
The Blue Belt Programme is the UK Government’s flagship international marine conservation programme. It works with ten UK Overseas Territories, from the Caribbean and Pacific to the Atlantic and Southern Ocean. The Blue Belt supports them in protecting and enhancing ocean health to halt biodiversity loss, enable sustainable growth, ensure climate change resilience, and to connect people with the natural environment. This highly ambitious programme is leading the way in supporting the Territories in the effective management of their marine environments, and in ensuring they are safeguarded for future generations.