The Blue Belt Programme aims to create marine conservations zones around the UK's Overeas Territories, including the Tristan da Cunha group of islands.

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News of Tristan's planning and implementation of the Blue Belt Programme. This is a UK strategy to protect the marine environment of its Overseas Territories, including the Tristan da Cunha group of islands, by establishing marine conservation zones. The UK Government has provided funding up to 2020 to the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) and the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) to provide the expertise and advice the OTs might need to formulate and deliver the strategy.

Wave Dancer in UK for refurbishment

From the most remote inhabited island on Earth to England (and back again):
The Wave Dancer's voyage to refurbishment

By Jake Turnbull from the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) on 5th October 2018

The Wave Dancer, a fisheries patrol boat from Tristan da Cunha, has been transported to the UK for refurbishment as part of the UK Government's Blue Belt Programme.

The Wave Dancer aboard the RRS James Clark Ross on her way to the UK

Blue Belt: working in partnership with the local community

The UK Government's Blue Belt Programme is working with local experts to protect this biodiversity and support the sustainable livelihoods of the island's residents, who rely on the fishing industry for their main source of revenue. The Blue Belt Programme is supporting the Tristan da Cunha Government in developing and implementing a strategy to protect its 750,000 km2 of oceanic territory by 2020.

Wave Dancer: a vital resource for Tristan da Cunha

The Wave Dancer is a fisheries patrol boat for Tristan da Cunha island, the largest island in the archipelago. James Glass, Tristan Director of Fisheries, explains, "the Wave Dancer is an important asset to the Fisheries Department. It is the only boat that can get to the outer islands in adverse weather conditions and stay overnight in an emergency, it supports visiting scientists carrying out fieldwork, and acts as a search and rescue boat as well".

But the benefits of the Wave Dancer extend beyond the isolated archipelago "the Wave Dancer has rescued a number of crew from passing vessels with serious medical problems, such as a broken leg or arm, heart attack, and a broken pelvis, to mention a few. Tristan provides an important medical facility, as we're on the shipping route between South America and Cape Town, and the Wave Dancer is part of that support", adds James.

The Wave Dancer travelling to the UK aboard the RRS James Clark Ross in April.

Blue Belt Programme: refurbishing the Wave Dancer

The Wave Dancer was transported to the UK for refurbishment as part of the UK Government's Blue Belt Programme. The vessel was taken aboard the RRS James Clark Ross last April, arriving in Grimsby in May.

An initial assessment established the repairs needed to return the Wave Dancer to full seaworthy condition. As part of the refurbishment two engines will need to be replaced, which presents a more environmentally friendly and efficient long-term solution than reconditioning the current engines. When planning the repairs careful consideration was given to the sea conditions around Tristan da Cunha, and the proposed launch of the vessel back into its local harbour.

The Wave Dancer is currently in a storage yard in Grimsby until a suitable contractor is found.

Looking towards 2019

The repairs to the Wave Dancer itself are just one part of the project. For a vessel that will operate around the most remote inhabited island on Earth training is vital. "We do not have many people with technical experience on the island, so training is an important function in the refitting of the boat to ensure it operates safely and independently once back on island", explains James. As such, plans are underway to welcome Rodney Green from the Tristan da Cunha fisheries department to take an active role in the refurbishment.

The Wave Dancer may operate around the most remote inhabited island on Earth, but there's no denying this vessel has impacted many people's lives including the residents of Tristan da Cunha, visiting scientists and even passing crew. The Blue Belt Programme Board and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office have approved the refurbishment, subject to a successful tender process, and the vessel is likely to return to the island in 2019.

Blue Belt Annual Update Published

Blue Belt Programme Annual Update

Cover of the Blue Belt Programme Annual Update 2017/18

Dowload a PDF copy from: Blue Belt 2018/2018 Update

We publish below the four Tristan da Cunha Report Pages:

Significant is the fact that the Tristan da Cunha report is the longest of all the UK Overseas Territories
taking part in the UK Government's Blue Belt programme.
Download using the link above to obtain your own copy.

Tristan Blue Belt Summary

Report by Oliver Yates, Hannah Thomas, James Bell, Martin Collins, Andy Deary,
Simon Morley and Sean Burns with photos from Oliver Yates (unless stated otherwise).

     In September 2016 the UK Government made a commitment to protect 4 million square kilometres of ocean, forming a "Blue Belt" around the UK Overseas Territories (UKOTs) by 2020. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has tasked the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) with helping the UKOT governments deliver on this commitment. This initiative, called the Blue Belt Programme, will see Cefas and MMO work in partnership with the UKOT governments and stakeholders to conduct scientific research and develop bespoke management and enforcement strategies for each of the seven UKOTs in the Programme.

     Tristan da Cunha, the world’s most remote inhabited island, and the neighbouring islands of Nightingale, Inaccessible and Gough in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago lie in the centre of the South Atlantic Ocean at 37° latitude, the very edge of the "roaring forties", where volatile weather systems from the South Atlantic create highly dynamic ocean conditions that can be tranquil one moment and a force to behold the next. Driven by the convergence of oceanic currents and upwellings around volcanic seamounts, Tristan’s marine environment is highly productive, supporting abundant marine flora and fauna sufficient to support one of the largest and most diverse seabird breeding colonies in the world.

     The Tristan community of just over 250 is very much in tune with the ocean, working at sea when the weather permits and affording it due respect when conditions are rough. Islanders are particularly reliant upon nearshore fisheries for both food and income, and have established careful management practices to ensure their efforts are sustainable. By all accounts, Tristanians and their wildlife are well deserving of a marine protection strategy that will benefit them for generations to come.

Tristan da Cunha as seen from Nightingale Island (by an Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross!)

     The Tristan community will determine the design of their marine protection strategy, informed by information gathered by Blue Belt Programme partners and other stakeholders. To help guide the process, the Tristan da Cunha Government held a stakeholder workshop at the FCO to identify data gaps, set research priorities and establish Blue Belt objectives. Participants agreed that priority objectives were: delivering baseline marine surveys (particularly over the seamounts); establishing sustainable parameters for the bluenose fishery; reducing the risk of marine traffic incidents within the EEZ; developing marine surveillance and enforcement strategies; replacing or refurbishing infrastructure and funding local initiatives such as shark tagging and monitoring. This article provides a brief update on the progress towards those objectives over the past twelve months.

Biodiversity of the Tristan seamounts

     Studying the Tristan seamounts is challenging. The remoteness and weather conditions associated with open ocean seamounts necessitate the use of large ocean-going vessels. Specialised equipment is needed to undertake the varied research techniques to establish seamount biodiversity and ecology. Blue Belt have partnered with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) to use the Royal Research Ship (RRS) James Clark Ross (JCR) and RRS Discovery to conduct scientific surveys of the Tristan seamounts. The first survey was mobilised in March 2018 and used high resolution bathymetry mapping system to describe the seafloor of the Yakhont & Crawford seamounts. Images and samples were also collected to identify species and classify the habitats associated with the seamounts. The water column above the seamounts is equally rich. The JCR team used pelagic cameras to capture video footage of large predators, while scientific mid-water trawls gathered small species and larval stages of fish and invertebrates to begin to piece together the food webs of the seamount ecosystems and dispersal mechanisms of key Tristan marine species. Collaborating experts joined the survey to record occurrences of marine mammal and seabird species found between the Falkland Islands and St Helena, and to associate these apex predators with important oceanographic features.

The final larval stage of Tristan lobster (Jasus tristani), before larvae leave the water column and become adults. Photo: Martin Collins.

Surveys of the bluenose warehou fishery

     In addition to the lobster fishery around each of the islands, Tristan da Cunha licence a demersal fishery on the offshore seamounts, targeting a large finfish species called bluenose warehou (Hyperoglyphe antarctica) (Fig. 3). Bluenose has been fished intermittently around Tristan in the past twenty years but prior to Blue Belt surveys, there was almost no information on the biology of this species in the South Atlantic. An enhanced data collection programme for the bluenose fishery was identified as one of the highest priorities, hence the Blue Belt Programme has initiated a series of fishing surveys, fisheries observer placements, fish tagging expeditions, and will generate baseline information on the wider ecosystem through research surveys on the seamounts.

Bluenose warehou caught during a longline survey. Photo: Vlad Laptikhovsky.

     Since the start of the 2017-18 fishing season, Blue Belt and Tristan da Cunha Fisheries Department staff have conducted two longline biomass surveys, observed three commercial longline trips on board the MFV Edinburgh, and observed a commercial trawl trip on board the Argos Vigo, with more surveys and observer trips planned. These trips are collecting important data on the biological characteristics of bluenose, as well as a number of the common bycatch species (typically rosefish), as well as vessel characteristics and the effects of different gear types on catch and impact upon vulnerable species. This information is being collected to support the first bluenose stock assessment in the South Atlantic, taking into account lessons learned from Australia and New Zealand where bluenose has been caught routinely since the 1980s. The Blue Belt Programme is also working closely to establish suitable conservation measures that reduce the impacts of the fishery on the wider ecosystem, such as seabird bycatch or damage to seafloor ecosystems.

     The longline surveys are a crucial part of this work and facilitate the collection of a large volume of information on catch rates, population structure and species distribution, as well as allowing us to initiate a tagging programme that will give a clearer picture of how the bluenose stock(s) should be assessed and managed. So far, we have conducted surveys at RSA and McNish seamounts, and around Gough Island. Since no commercial fishing (apart from lobster) is permitted around the island, the Gough survey is particularly valuable in that it provides a picture of what an unexploited stock might look like and therefore reveals the biological parameters of an unimpacted bluenose population to inform stock assessment models.

Managing shipping traffic

     Remote though it is, the Tristan da Cunha archipelago lies close to a regular intercontinental route for shipping traffic. In the last 10 years, the shipwreck of the MS Oliva, transiting between South America and Africa, and the grounding of an oil-rig have caused heavy fuel oil and cargo to be spilled around the islands, with damaging effects on the wildlife. Reducing the risk of shipping-related accidents is a high priority for Tristan and the Blue Belt Programme has been investigating what options are available to improve the regulations governing shipping vessel movements. Following a review of measures used across other Overseas Territories, Blue Belt partners are currently assessing how existing domestic legislation could support more stringent restrictions within Tristan’s territorial waters. Changes to international vessel traffic routes or the establishment of areas to be avoided in the offshore EEZ will require additional legislation to be adopted, which may in turn place strict obligations upon the Tristan da Cunha Government with regard to ensuring safety at sea in its waters. An appraisal of the advantages and implications of any additional legislation will enable Tristan’s Government to decide upon the most appropriate course of action.

Enhancing marine emergency response procedures

     Alongside shipping vessel management, Blue Belt partners are collaborating with Maritime & Coastguard Agency to identify Tristan’s capacity to respond effectively to marine emergency situations, such as oil spills, ship wrecks or safety incidents. An initial capacity assessment was conducted with the Tristan da Cunha Government to identify the need for enhanced response capabilities and emergency procedures on Tristan. Further discussions will explore how best to meet Tristan’s needs and where specific training could be provided.

Surveillance and enforcement

     An essential part of good marine management is having the capacity to monitor compliance with regulations and to enforce the rules when required. Across all the Blue Belt Overseas Territories, the Blue Belt Programme is assessing the need for strengthened surveillance and exploring new technologies that could provide the necessary support. In June 2017, a Blue Belt Marine Officer visited the Tristan da Cunha Fisheries and Conservation Department to support their efforts to enforce existing fisheries management regulations and enhance their future capabilities. Work involved assessing the government vessels available for patrols, checking fish catch recording procedures, and reviewing surveillance protocols. Staff were also given training on best practices for enforcement activities, such as standardised protocols for record keeping.

Infrastructure for marine management

     The Fishery and Conservation departments conduct research around the inshore marine environment and on the nearby Nightingale and Inaccessible Islands, which requires small vessel usage. However, in an environment typified by strong winds, frequent rain and sea spray, mechanical maintenance is particularly challenging. The delay in obtaining replacement parts and access to specialist workmanship often leads to wear and tear on existing infrastructure. The fleet of Tristan Government inshore vessels includes four craft: the Fishery Department Rigid Inflatable Boat (RIB), the Conservation Department RIB, a search and rescue RIB and a patrol / search and rescue vessel with a greater autonomy and covered wheel house which can be used in more marginal weather conditions. Currently, two of the four are in poor condition or un-seaworthy, leaving the Fishery RIB Jasus tristani the only active marine management vessel. With Blue Belt support, the patrol / search and rescue vessel Wave Dancer has been brought to the UK for assessment and potential refurbishment, and the Conservation RIB Arctic Tern is being replaced.

After ten years of service for Tristan da Cunha the Arctic Tern will be replaced.
The vessel is seen here off Nightingale Island.

Tristan represented at No 10 Environment Meeting

UKOTA meets Sir John Randall, the Prime Minister’s Special Adviser for the Environment on 24th May 2018
29-May-2018
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Blue Belt survey aboard RRS James Clark Ross

March 2018 Blue Belt survey provides vital data for Tristan's marine protection zone plans
3-May-2018
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DEFRA Minister briefed on Tristan's Blue Belt Programme

Reception held aboard HMS Belfast on 18th April
29-Apr-2018
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London Blue Belt event aboard the ship CEFAS Endeavour

Tristan’s Blue Belt work showcased to Commonwealth leaders and promoted to UK schools
28-Apr-2018
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Report from Oliver Yates

Senior Cefas Marine Science Advisor visits Tristan da Cunha Islands January-February 2018
17-Apr-2018
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Bluenose survey around Gough Island and McNish seamount

On-going Blue Belt research on MFV Edinburgh
17-Apr-2018
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RRS James Clark Ross Expedition Newsletter

RRS James Clark Ross visited Tristan da Cunha waters 22-31 March 2018
4-Apr-2018
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RRS James Clark Ross visits Tristan

Presentation of Blue Belt research given to island community
3-Apr-2018
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Tristan Blue Belt plans presented to MPs

UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove leads delegation of MPs committed to marine protection
22-Mar-2018
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RRS James Clark Ross helps Tristan's Blue Belt plans

UK marine research ship to carry out Tristan EEZ seamount surveys in March 2018
21-Mar-2018
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Report on Tristan da Cunha Marine Protection Planning Workshop

Blue Belt July 2017 London Workshop Report available to download
9-Mar-2018
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Cefas officer assists Tristan with Blue Belt Work

Update on Oliver Yates' work on Tristan's Blue Belt plans.
9-Feb-2018
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Blue Belt Update

Cefas and MMO team visit Tristan
6-Feb-2018
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Blue Belt Representatives to visit Tristan in January 2018

RMS St Helena's final Tristan voyage brings MMO and Cefas scientists to Tristan
27-Dec-2017
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Creating a Blue Belt around the Tristan da Cunha Islands

Update on progress towards a bespoke marine protection zone by 2020
6-Oct-2017
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Key Stakeholders meet to discuss Tristan's Blue Belt Commitment

Workshop held at the London FCO for Tristan to plan its strategy to protect its marine environment by 2020.
2-Aug-2017
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