Rhys Hobbs, Marine Conservation Officer in St Helena, explains his work and involvement in the UK Government's Blue Belt programme.
As part of my role I manage the Marine team here on St Helena and have an overview of the wide range of work they carry out. The team covers everything from tuna tagging, seabird monitoring, the studying the pelagic ecosystem, dive surveys, monitoring marine tourism, right through to advising on pollution and biosecurity issue. My role is to work with other government departments, NGOs and the local population to ensure we use the marine environment both responsibly and sustainably.
What background do you have in marine management/conservation?
My background is in an environmental field, but not marine, for 10 years I worked for the UK’s Environment Agency in Flood Risk Management, predicting flooding, mitigating against it and warning people when flooding is predicted to occur. Although it has been a steep learning curve shifting to the marine environment, fortunately a lot of the environmental knowledge I already had has come in handy!
What does the Blue Belt Programme mean to you?
I think the Blue Belt Programme is a really exciting time for St Helena. With the raised awareness in the UK around the impact of our actions on the oceans, it provides real opportunities to further develop our research, monitoring and enforcement capabilities in order to conserve the marine environment. Due to our resources we are limited in our ability to police our Marine Protected Area from illegal fishing, so further support on that will be very beneficial.
What benefits do you think the Blue Belt Programme will deliver for the island community?
We are already seeing benefits of the Blue Belt Programme on island, the tagging programme undertaken with Cefas has provided us with valuable information about fish behaviour (feeding patterns, migration, growth etc) which we are working with the local fisherman to ensure we fish sustainably. Other benefits will be to help us with our enforcement capabilities, improving regulation and policy that support our legislation/ordinances, and hopefully some funding to create a new laboratory (our current one is quite small!)
What are the particular challenges facing the local marine economy currently and, if you had a magic wand, what would be the one thing you would change?
We have a very good relationship with the local fishing industry and they are active in assisting us in undertaking a large amount of our research. However things are difficult for that industry at the moment and I would like to see that improve as it will greatly help both them and St Helena’s economy. I have no doubt that, with the relationship we have with them, we can develop a solution that helps the fishing industry and protects the marine environment.
Read more about the Blue Belt programme