I’m Emily Hardman, Senior Integrated Marine Manager at the MMO and the lead for St Helena on the Blue Belt Programme.
St Helena designated a sustainable use Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 2016. Work on the Blue Belt Programme has therefore concentrated on supporting the St Helena Government (SHG) to implement evidence-based management strategies to ensure that human activities have a minimal impact on the important marine habitats and species within the MPA. I went out to St Helena in March this year to consult with stakeholders on our work, developing management strategies to make sure that our recommendations are tailored to the unique, local situation.
After a four day delay in Johannesburg due to the plane being unable to land, myself and Jo Stockill, Head of Blue Belt at the MMO, finally made it out to St Helena. Our visit coincided with the St Helena Conference 2019 ‘Natural capital in the South Atlantic’ organised by the Joint Nature Conservation Committee (JNCC) and the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI). This provided an excellent opportunity to meet partners and stakeholders from not just St Helena, but also Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha, South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands and the Falkland Islands. Jo gave two presentations during the conference about the Blue Belt Programme and our work investigating emerging technologies for fisheries enforcement.
We were also able to listen to a wide range of really interesting presentations from the different Overseas Territories. We also maximised this opportunity by holding a Blue Belt workshop, which aimed to take stock of what has been achieved by the Programme to date and share lessons and good practice to inform the remainder of the Programme and the legacy beyond 2020. The workshop was attended by 20 participants and some really positive discussions were had, which will help to inform our planning for the coming years work.
The remainder of the trip concentrated on meeting with stakeholders from a range of different sectors to consult them on the work we have been doing to support effective management of human activities within the MPA. I met with the Marine Tour Operators to discuss a proposed new strategy for managing marine recreation within the MPA, which will ensure that important marine species aren’t disturbed by ecotourism activities.
I also had the opportunity to go out with visiting scientists from Georgia Aquarium and see whale sharks for myself – one of the species this new strategy will help to protect. I met important stakeholders from industry and SHG to discuss a proposed new management strategy for sand extraction as well as to discuss ways to address concerns around water quality in the coastal areas. Jo and I also held a meeting with the local fishers to provide them with an update on the recent satellite surveillance that was carried out to identify illegal fishing within the MPA and to listen to their concerns.
The visit has really helped me to understand the challenges faced by St Helena, but also to see their passion for the marine environment and desire to ensure that the MPA is effectively managed. I will now use all of the information I gained from the consultation meetings to inform development of management strategies that are appropriate to the local situation and realistic to implement.