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The 9 winners of the Ocean Awards 2017

The 9 winners of the Ocean Awards 2017

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Special Awards: Louis Bacon and the Bacon Foundation

Photographed by Harry Cory Wright

As Charles Clover, chairman of the Ocean Awards judges and executive director of Blue Marine Foundation (BLUE), has noted, Ascension Island has been “at the frontier of science” ever since Charles Darwin went there in the 19th century, “so it is entirely appropriate that it is now at the centre of a great scientific effort to designate the Atlantic’s largest marine reserve”.

On January 3, 2016 the British Government announced that half the waters around Ascension, a British Overseas Territory, would become a marine protected area of 234,291 square kilometres – almost the size of the UK – in an isolated stretch of the tropical South Atlantic. The project was made possible by a grant from American conservation philanthropist Louis Bacon’s foundation, the Bacon Foundation, which provided £300,000 to support monitoring and management of the designated area.

At the judges’ meeting it was felt that within the Visionary Award category the achievement of Louis Bacon, who had also been nominated, could not go unrecognised. It was unanimously agreed that he should receive a Special Award for his commitment to ocean conservation.

“The ocean faces many challenges beyond illegal and overfishing, including pollution, habitat destruction, warming and acidification,” says Bacon. “We know that when overfishing is addressed through enforcement of marine protected areas – a key element of this project – ocean life regenerates.

“In 2015 we learned about potential opportunities to partner with BLUE and the British Government on Ascension Island to help establish one of the largest protected areas in the Atlantic,” he continues. “Through our partnership on Ascension, BLUE will help to conduct the scientific analyses and community consultations essential to permanent and successful protection.”

Ascension’s waters are home to the largest population of green turtles anywhere in the world. There are at least 11 endemic fish species (resplendent angelfish, Ascension goby, Lubbock’s yellowtail and white hawkfish among them) and a circumtropical range of fish found off the West African coast and the Caribbean, notably giant marlin, tuna, dorado, black triggerfish, bottlenose and pan-tropical spotted dolphins. Humpback whales also migrate here in September and October to raise their young in its warm waters and there are large colonies of tropical seabirds as well as the island’s own Ascension frigate bird.

British MP James Duddridge, who was Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office when the Bacon Foundation support was announced, said it would cover “the costs of enforcement over the coming fishing season and contribute to surveillance, science and management for the next 18 months”.

Initially the project faced some local opposition. In 2013 the government of Ascension temporarily closed its waters to commercial fishing, which had been poorly managed and was beginning to strain the environment. Island residents clamoured for the ban to be overturned on the grounds that their livelihoods were suffering. The agreement that was reached incorporated their concerns and half of the waters remain open to fishing on the proviso that shark finning remains illegal and that best-practice management is observed.

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