Creating one of the world’s biggest marine protection zones around Ascension Island could cost the UK about £3 million a year – at a Conservative estimate.
The conservationist estimate, on the other hand, is only £400,000 a year.
Celebrities and academics have joined with conservation groups in calling on the British government to create three massive maritime “parks” in the Atlantic and South Pacific, with a complete ban on commercial fishing.
The Tory Foreign Minister Hugo Swire has said the likely cost of full enforcement could be judged from the £2.75m spent each year patrolling a reserve in the Indian Ocean.
Policing the seas was even more expensive around South Georgia, “where a patrol vessel alone costs approximately £3.2m per year,” he said in a Commons Written Answer on 9 February 2015.
But the environment writer Charles Clover has put the cost at a mere £400,000 a year, according to The Guardian website.
Thanks to satellite technology, it would not be necessary to have a patrol boat out searching vast areas of ocean for pirate fishing vessels, he told the site.
The Guardian also reported that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had begun discussions with people on Ascension about creating a reserve.
It understood that “indigenous” fishing would be allowed up to 18 miles offshore. That may not reassure keen sport fishermen on Ascension, which officially has no permanent or “indigenous” population.
The Blue Marine Foundation has spear-headed a campaign to have three marine reserves created around Ascension, the Southern Atlantic territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands, and the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific.
It says they would protect 1.75 million square kilometres of ocean – expanding the total area of ocean reserves by 50 per cent.
The foundation describes Ascension’s warm waters as “a green turtle Mecca and one of the last remaining hotspots for Atlantic megafauna such as tuna, marlin and shark.”
A campaign letter has been signed by 42 conservation bodies, including Birdlife International, the RSPB, Greenpeace UK, the Zoological Society of London, and the less-well-known Fin Fighters UK and Fish Fight.
The actresses Greta Scacchi, Dame Helena Bonham Cater, Julie Christie and Zoe Wanamaker have added their names to those of leading scientists and environmental figures in the letter to the UK government.
The foundation said in a statement: “More than 94 per cent of the UK’s biodiversity is found in its overseas territories.
“Rare whales, turtles, fish, penguins, corals and albatrosses are among the wildlife that would benefit if the reserves were to be set up.”
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Blue Marine Foundation – press release
Conservationists call for UK to create world’s largest marine reserve – The Guardian
Cost of patrolling Ascension reserve – Commons Written Answer