Returning to where they were born, these turtles migrate to lay their eggs on the shores of this 88 square kilometer island. Once their young hatch, they will make the same journey every three to four years between the beaches of Rio de Janeiro and Asuncion.
Ascension Island is the second most densely populated green turtle breeding ground in the Atlantic, but overfishing, climate change, and ocean pollution are just some of the factors that threaten endangered green sea turtles along their journey to this remote sanctuary.
Each year, Ascension Island’s nesting sites witness the laying of millions of eggs while green sea turtles descend across its shores. Perched atop a 10,000-foot underwater volcano in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the island is one of the world’s longest mountain ranges and is home to a unique species of seabirds that are critical to the island’s ecosystem.
Classified as an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, the small volcanic island is part of an “exclusive economic zone” that covers nearly 445,000 square kilometers – roughly the size of France. Also home to the largest Atlantic blue marlin ever recorded, large colonies of birds, and dozens of fish species found nowhere else on Earth, Ascension Island has largely avoided extensive commercial fishing due to its remote location.
But no place in the ocean or the world is safe from the effects of climate change, and the crisis – combined with overfishing – has endangered the survival of green sea turtles. This is the very reason why tens of thousands of global citizens have taken action in support of a move to protect the oceans around Ascension Island.
Overfishing is driving climate change
Ahead of the 2016 Global Citizen Festival, 30,000 global citizens took action to support the Blue Marine Foundation – an organization dedicated to restoring ocean health by tackling overfishing and promoting conservation. Blue Marine, as part of the Great British Oceans Alliance, called on then British Prime Minister David Cameron to push the government to increase measures protecting the oceans around its overseas territories, including Ascension Island.
Historically, Taiwanese and Japanese boats fished the Ascension sea waters, catching huge tuna and a lot of bycatch including sharks for little financial gain at the expense of endangered marine life.
In February, the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that we are running out of time to take urgent action on climate change and protect our oceans, citing overfishing as a major driver of climate change.
Overfishing leads to the loss of biodiversity through the destruction of the ocean basin, as well as the aimless killing of “biomass” of endangered fish and species. This fish biomass stores and protects the world’s atmosphere from up to 38,000 gigatons of carbon emissions – more than rainforests on Earth. A large number of marine species, such as bluefin tuna and oceanic sharks, have been overfished in Ascension.
Climate change and overfishing, even far from the small island, have damaged fragile ecosystems, reducing the nutritional quality of the fish eaten by local bird colonies. Today, local seabird colonies are down 80%.
But by protecting vast swathes of the ocean and demonstrating that it is possible to have a thriving community in the middle of a vast marine protected area, Ascension is helping to turn the tide of climate change.
In 2016, half of the Ascension waters were closed to fishing. Then in 2019, Ascension Island declared 100% of its waters a marine protected area, with a complete ban on marine commercial fishing.
Global Citizens Take Action to Support Blue Marine
To end extreme poverty and achieve United Nations global goals, such as Goal 14 to protect life underwater, Global Citizen campaigns to protect the oceans and the communities that depend on them for survival.
The Blue Marine Foundation’s mission is to see at least 30% of the world’s oceans under protection by 2030 and the other 70% managed responsibly that promotes a “forever healthy ocean for all”.
Global Citizens took action in 2016 to support the Great British Ocean Alliance’s campaign to help conserve Ascension Island waters, knowing that key strategic interventions can help communities at the forefront of ocean conservation. With 6.8 million square kilometers of territorial waters, Britain is the custodian of the fifth largest marine area on the planet.
The Blue Marine Alliance and the Great British Oceans Alliance worked with the Ascension Island Government and the UK Government to secure the second largest Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Atlantic Ocean. Forbidden marine reserves are rare areas where the destruction of natural resources is strictly prohibited, according to National Geographic.
Today, Ascension Island is supported today by a £2 million ($2.4 million) endowment fund raised by the Blue Marine Foundation, replacing income previously received by the island from the sale of licenses for tall ships fishing in Ascension waters. The British government’s “blue belt” program monitors and enforces the waters to ensure that no illegal fishing occurs within the exclusive economic zone.
As a result, Ascension Island has become a safe haven for green sea turtles. Out of every thousand baby turtles, only one will reach adulthood, but those who do can safely return to the island to start families of their own.
You can join the Global Citizen campaign to end extreme poverty and take climate action now by taking action here. Be part of a movement supported by citizens around the world who are taking action with governments, businesses and philanthropists to make a difference.
Global Citizen is grateful to the Blue Marine Foundation for its ongoing efforts to protect our planet and the most vulnerable communities affected by climate change.