HC 846 Sustainability in the Overseas Territories

Written evidence submitted by the Government of Tristan da Cunha Conservation Department

Introduction

(i) Tristan Conservation Department (TCD) welcomes the Environmental Audit Committee’s Inquiry on this important issue.

(ii) The Tristan da Cunha Islands, because of their isolation, represent some of the least disturbed temperate island systems in the world. Not only do they support the most remote human community they are also home to many endemic plant and animal species.

(iii) Although 44% of the land area of the islands is designated as nature reserves, with Gough and Inaccessible Islands inscribed as World Heritage Sites, knowledge of the diversity of species they contain and of the threats they face remains inadequate.

(iv) The new Tristan Conservation Department was only formed in 2009 and has a staff of four, Conservation Officer, Clerk and two Assistants. The Department has full responsibility for conservation management in the Tristan islands where there are 11 Globally Threatened bird species as well as unknown numbers of threatened plants, invertebrates and marine organisms. The workload for these four staff is very high.

Summary

· Environmental capacity is limited to address biosecurity policy and implementation

· Access to expertise inside the DEFRA family should be given to OTs at lower cost

· Lack of knowledge on the marine environment is a limitation to designating science-based MPAs

Specific Issues Identified by the Committee

1. How the UK Government is fulfilling its responsibilities to protect biodiversity in the UKOTs.

1.1 The threat to biodiversity on Tristan da Cunha from introduced invasive species is significant. On Gough Island breeding success of the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross averages 32% due to predation from the introduced house mice; at Nightingale mussels introduced by the grounding of the MS Oliva in 2011, potentially threaten the Tristan Rock lobster fishery on which the economy of the islands depend.

Recommendation:

A. Technical expertise from Defra to support strengthening biosecurity policy and implementation, and funding for quarantine facilities are urgently needed.

Wanless et al. 2009. From both sides: Dire demographic consequences of carnivorous mice and longlining for the Critically Endangered Tristan albatrosses on Gough Island. Biological Conservation 142 (2009) 1710-1718.

1.2 With only 262 residents, the small population size of Tristan da Cunha means that there is limited potential to develop local expertise in every aspect of the natural environment.

Recommendation:

B. To enable implementation of a biodiversity research programme, access to the world-class skills of the UK's government-funded institutions should be made available without the requirement for full cost-recovery; work in the OTs should be considered core work and there should be an internal budget at all government-funded institutions for this work. Full cost-recovery (including overhead) requirements currently limit the involvement of many UK institutions in projects, to the detriment of both OTs, and the UK.

1.3 The Tristan da Cunha archipelago is extremely isolated with a unique marine ecosystem characterised by few species but a large proportion of endemics. Some studies of the shallow water marine life have been carried out but knowledge of the deeper water marine environment and its biodiversity is very limited. Tristan’s territorial waters cover a vast area, and at present there are no MPAs. IUU fishing is a threat to the marine environment but although there is a fisheries patrol vessel, its range is limited. The lack of knowledge of the marine environment is a fundamental limitation to designating science-based MPAs.

Recommendation:

C. A significant input of resources is required to fill this knowledge gap on the marine biodiversity. However, limited expertise in the marine environment and the expense of carrying out research in deeper waters is beyond the resources of Tristan itself.

30 November 2012

Prepared 14th January 2013