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Greater protection needed for endangered seas around South Sandwich Islands

A spokesperson from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “The first 5-year review of this MPA recently concluded, with the independent panel agreeing that the MPA is achieving its conservation objectives, while proposing a number of recommendations for further protection.”The panel did not agree on the closure of the South Sandwich Islands, or whether this would deliver any conservation benefits.“Based on these recommendations a number of additional measures were announced by the Commissioner of SGSSI on 12 December.”These include the expansion the MPA to cover the entire SGSSI Maritime Zone; lengthening the seasonal closure of the krill fishery from 5 to 7 months; extending the no-take closed areas to 23%; prohibition of all commercial mining or hydrocarbons; and prohibition of the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil.”Additional reporting by  Sam Hall and Claisse Opulencia “It is disappointing that so far they have only committed to protection of a fifth of the area highlighted by Blue Belt Charter. That is not good enough. We need bolder change if we are to save precious ocean wildlife and habitats.” Penguins swimming off the South Sandwich IslandsCredit: Jim Wilson/www.irishwildlife.ie   Professor Roberts added: “We were on the cusp of a protected area that could offer a world-class refuge for wildlife, far away from many other human disturbances. It is still possible. All it would require is for government to enact a total ban on industrial fishing around the South Sandwich Islands, to bring it in line with international standards on marine protected areas.” Penguins swimming off the South Sandwich Islands Luke Pollard MP, the Shadow Fisheries Minister, said: “If we are to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030 the Government must speed up its designation and protection of waters around South Sandwich Islands and other British Overseas Territories.“The Government has committed to leave our environment in a better state than they found it but this announcement falls far short of fulfilling that pledge.”Greenpeace UK said: “The UK Government has committed to protecting nearly a third of the world’s oceans by 2030 yet has stumbled at the first hurdle – the opportunity to protect the waters around the uninhabited South Sandwich Islands in the South Atlantic.“Millions of Blue Planet II viewers watched enthralled the scenes of chinstrap penguins battling extreme weather on these icy volcanic islands. Recent research has shown that these are some of the last remaining wilderness areas on our planet. If the UK is to be a global leader in ocean protection, this must be where to start.” A curious bird inspects a camera on the South Sandwich IslandsCredit: Jim Wilson/www.irishwildlife.ie   A curious bird inspects a camera on the South Sandwich Islands The Blue Belt Charter, which calls for greater protection of waters around UK Overseas Territories, estimates that 87 per cent of the ocean around the South Sandwich Islands has been directly impacted by human activities such as shipping and industrial fishing for species such as krill.It says that even around the far-flung Pitcairn Islands in the eastern Pacific Ocean, only 15 percent of waters have survived as wilderness.Professor Roberts pointed out that waters around the South Sandwich Islands – where thousands of chinstrap penguins live alongside elephant seals and albatrosses – contain unexplored deep sea ridges and hot water springs, thought to contain creatures that have as yet to be discovered.“The government says more science is needed to justify further protection. But we know enough to be sure this environment is rich and fragile and needs to be protected without delay,” he said.The call for greater protection of the South Sandwich Islands has won support across all parties.Theresa Villiers, the Conservative former Northern Ireland Secretary backed the call by the Blue Belt Charter, saying “we need radical action to clean up our oceans”.She added: “Full protection of the seas around the South Sandwich Islands could play a big part in delivering that goal. I want the UK Government to maintain the pressure on the authorities in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands to deliver this. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. They have been likened to a “string of snowy pearls set amid the dark blue sea”, a series of islands rich teeming with fish and wildlife on the edge of the Antarctic Circle.But the biodiversity and natural environment of the South Sandwich Islands is threatened by industrial fishing, say campaigners.Environmentalists are now calling for the British Government to issue a complete ban on industrial scale fishing around the islands.They say that although the local authority that governs the territory has recently announced measures to increase marine protection more needs to be done as a matter of urgency.Professor Callum Roberts a marine conservation biologist at York University, said: “The South Sandwich Islands and their associated marine environment are one of the last great ocean wildernesses. Nearly 40 per cent of the seas around the South Sandwich Islands are wilderness.“The Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands recently discussed options to enhance protection in the Marine Protection Area and last week announced measures to enhance fully protected areas. However, while banning mining and oil extraction throughout the protected area, they chose to allow industrial fishing to remain in 77 percent of its waters.”

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