Minister Duncan's Our Ocean Conference speech

Foreign Office Minister announces significant increase in UK Overseas Territory Marine Protected Area coverage.

The Rt Hon Sir Alan Duncan KCMG MP

Mr Secretary, distinguished guests.

The history of the United Kingdom is a history of the sea. As an island nation with a proud sea-faring tradition, the likes of Captain Cook, Horatio Nelson, and Walter Raleigh have made that history.

In addition to finding America – and then rather carelessly losing it – our history has been one of nautical discovery which has endowed us with a number of Overseas Territories, making us the custodian of one of the largest marine estates in the world.

I’d really like to thank Secretary Kerry for hosting this event and for his personal leadership on marine protection. Today I’d like to set out the UK’s policy, our achievements, and our future plans.

Put simply, the value and significance we attach to marine protection is expressed in the scale of our ambition for the sea. Now for planning on land, we protect areas around our cities with a green belt of undeveloped space. And, at sea, we are creating a ‘Blue Belt’ of marine protection around the United Kingdom and around our Overseas Territories.

Now we’ve become pioneers in marine protection just as we were, centuries ago, pioneers of discovery. In fact, thirty years ago, we designated our first marine reserve off the coast of England around the tiny island of Lundy.

But since then, we’ve established Marine Protected Areas around the British Indian Ocean Territory as well as South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. I’m very pleased to announce that a law designating a Marine Protected Area around the Pitcairn Islands has just this week been brought into force. This will prohibit fishing across more than ninety-nine percent of the 840,000 square kilometres of ocean surrounding the Islands. While sustainable local fishing by Pitcairn residents will be preserved.

Well this was going to have been my big moment, because until last week the Pitcairn MPA would have been the largest in the world. But President Obama sort of rather blew that out of the water by announcing an even bigger MPA in Hawaii – trust the Yanks to indulge in a bit of one-upmanship over us poor Brits. But we’re happy as our loss is the world’s gain and we congratulate the United States.

And in this same spirit, and on the opposite side of the globe, the Government of St Helena has this week designated its entire 445,000 square kilometre maritime zone as a sustainable use Marine Protected Area, protecting its abundant marine life for the future.

Its Atlantic neighbour, Ascension Island - renowned for its record breaking tuna - last year closed half its Exclusive Fishing Zone to commercial fishing. And its Government has agreed a scientific roadmap to determine the exact location of an evidence-based Marine Protected Area by 2019.

So that’s at least another 220,000 square kilometres. And to those I can add Tristan da Cunha, which is aiming to establish a regime for protecting the waters across its entire maritime zone. It’ll be driven by the community, it will be science-led ad will meet both local economic and community needs.

Indeed this proposal would provide more than three quarters of a million square kilometres of protected ocean, which would make it the largest in the South Atlantic. It could also surround Gough Island - which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to some of the world’s finest bird life, like the Rockhopper Penguin and the Tristan Albatross.

So all of this put together would more than double the size of protected ocean around our Overseas Territories to an area greater than India – a staggering four million square kilometres. That is the United Kingdom’s achievement today.

Of course simply drawing lines on a map is not enough. Illegal fishermen don’t care about boundaries. So we’ve got to stop them. And that’s easier said than done.

There are organisations like Pew and the Bertarelli Foundation who are helping us embrace new techniques. I’d really like to thank them or their fabulous support.

If you can’t easily do it on the sea – then do it from the air. The UK’s Satellite Application Catapult provides effective satellite monitoring. It has been tested in Pitcairn – and similar monitoring will now be rolled out to other Overseas Territories committed to delivering MPAs. But we need to go that bit further and harness the very best of global technology, and intellect and of cooperation.

So that’s why I firmly agree with Secretary Kerry’s vision that we all work together. We’d like to see others join the UK’s Ocean Innovation Hubs – a sort of set of Silicon Valleys for the oceans - to put his vision into practice.

We will support the commitments I have set out today, by providing twenty million pounds over the next four years for the development of expertise, surveillance, and technology trials.

And so at the last election the UK Government promised to create a Blue Belt of protection around our Overseas Territories. That is exactly what we have now done. We now have four million square kilometres of protected areas and I hope there will still be more to come. Today Britain is a pioneer, not of exploration, but of conservation. I hope everyone will join us in this important endeavour for the good of our oceans. Thank you.

Published 15 September 2016