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Ascension Island marine reserve

The UK government is to create a marine reserve in the Atlantic waters of Ascension Island.

The new reserve totals 234,291sq km, covering an area almost as large as the UK and will mean that just over half of the protected area will be closed to fishing.

Fisheries in the other half will be protected under a grant of £300,000 from the Louis Bacon Foundation, a charitable body. The new reserve could be formally designated as soon as 2017 after further data has been collected and analysed. The director of fisheries and marine conservation, Dr Judith Brown commented 'The economic benefit from the fishery has provided much needed income for the island and this donation will help fund the enforcement to protect the closed area from illegal fishing".

The creation of the new marine reserve around Ascension Island will increase the world's marine conservation zones to about 2% of the ocean. This remains a long way short of the 30% recommended by scientists to preserve species and expand fish stocks, but is much greater than just a few years ago.

Marine parks have been designated by governments at Palau in the North Pacific, Easter Island and Pitcairn in the South Pacific, and New Zealand's Kermadec islands, making 2015 a landmark year for ocean conservation.

The designation of the new reserve comes after campaigning since 2014 for all or part of the Ascension's waters to be protected by the Great British Oceans Coalition, an organisation that includes the Blue Marine Foundation and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

The Blue Marine Foundation chairman noted "Ascension has been at the frontiers of science 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 design the Atlantic's largest marine reserve."

The new Ascension Island reserve is reported to contain some of the largest marlin in the world, one of the largest populations of green turtles, extensive colonies of tropical seabirds and the frigate bird, unique to Ascension Island.