Reconstructing the history of ocean wildlife around Ascension Island

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1. In 2016, the UK government announced plans for a large-scale Marine Protected Area around Ascension Island, a UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic.
2. To improve baselines for marine life to support ambitious conservation and assess change over time, archives were searched for historical accounts of wildlife from Ascension's discovery in 1501 to the present. For more recent changes, 139 interviews with past and present inhabitants were conducted.
3. Ascension's marine life has, from first discovery to the present, been consistently remarked upon for its exceptional abundance. Historical sources indicate declines in seabird and turtle populations from human exploitation and introduction of rats and cats. They are recovering with good management, although still below pre-settlement abundance.
4. Interviews with residents indicate more recent changes, notably declines in catch per unit of fishing effort at popular shore angling sites, a decline in yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares) and increase in Galapagos sharks (Carcharhinus galapagensis).
5. What is very notable, however, based on the interviews, was that there was no temporal signal suggestive of recent systemic decline, in marked contrast to many parts of the world where recent wildlife declines have been pervasive and steep. Ascension represents a remarkable and immensely important centre of abundance in a sea of depletion and change, warranting full protection for all the island's waters.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
Early online date25 Feb 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 25 Feb 2020

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