Every year, nearly 15,000 female green sea turtles start the long journey from the eastern shores of Brazil to the small island of Ascension — a remote South Atlantic island located almost 2,300 kilometers (about 1,400 miles) away.
These turtles are returning to where they were born, migrating to lay their eggs on the beaches of this 88 square-kilometer island. Their young, once hatched, will make that very same journey every three to four years between the shores of Rio de Janeiro and Ascension.
Ascension Island is the second most populated green turtle breeding ground in the Atlantic Ocean, but overfishing, climate change, and ocean pollution are just some of the factors threatening the endangered green sea turtle along its journey to this remote sanctuary.
Each year the nesting beach sites of Ascension Island witness the laying of millions of eggs as green sea turtles descend across its shores. The island sits atop a 10,000-foot underwater volcano located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, one of the world’s longest mountain ranges, home to unique seabird species critical to the island's ecosystem.
Classified as a United Kingdom overseas territory, the small volcanic island is part of an area that boasts an “exclusive economic zone” covering almost 445,000 square kilometers — nearly the size of France. Also home to the largest Atlantic blue marlin ever recorded, large bird colonies, and a dozen fish species found nowhere else on Earth, Ascension Island has largely avoided intensive commercial fishing due to its remote location.
But nowhere in the ocean, or the world, is safe from the impacts of climate change, and the crisis — paired with overfishing — has put the survival of green sea turtles at risk. That's the very reason why tens of thousands of Global Citizens took action to support a move to protect the oceans surrounding Ascension Island.
Overfishing Drives Climate Change
Ahead of the 2016 Global Citizen Festival, 30,000 Global Citizens took action to support the Blue Marine Foundation — an organization dedicated to restoring ocean health by addressing overfishing and promoting conservation. Blue Marine, as part of the Great British Oceans Coalition, called on then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron to push the government to increase measures that protect the oceans surrounding overseas territories, including Ascension Island.
Mainly Taiwanese and Japanese boats had historically been fishing Ascension's offshore waters, catching huge tunas and lots of by-catch including sharks for little financial gain at the expense of endangered sea life.
In February, the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report warned that we're running out of time to take urgent action on climate change and protect our oceans, citing overfishing as a key driver of climate change.
Overfishing leads to biodiversity loss through the destruction of the ocean basin, as well as the aimless killing of fish “biomass” and endangered species. This fish biomass stores and protects the world's atmosphere from up to 38,000 gigatons of carbon emissions — more than the earth’s rainforests. A large number of offshore species, such as bigeye and yellowfin tuna tuna and oceanic sharks, were overfished in Ascension.
Climate change and overfishing, even far away from the small island, have harmed its fragile ecosystems, reducing the nutritional quality of fish eaten by local bird colonies. Today, the local seabird colonies have declined by 80%.
But by protecting large tracts of ocean and demonstrating that it is possible to have a thriving community at the center of a vast marine protected area, Ascension is helping to turn the tide on climate change.
In 2016, half of Ascension’s waters were closed to fishing. Then in 2019, Ascension Island declared 100% of its waters as a marine protected area, with a complete ban on commercial offshore fishing.
Global Citizens Take Action to Support Blue Marine Foundation
To end extreme poverty and meet the United Nations Global Goals, such as Goal 14 to protect life below water, Global Citizen campaigns to protect the oceans and the communities that rely on them to survive.
The Blue Marine Foundation’s mission is to see at least 30% of the world’s oceans under protection by 2030 and the other 70% managed in a responsible way that promotes a “healthy ocean forever, for everyone.”
Global Citizens took action in 2016 to support the Great British Oceans Coalition’s campaign to help preserve Ascension Island's waters, knowing that key strategic interventions could help communities at the forefront of ocean conservation. With 6.8 million square kilometers of territorial waters, Britain is the custodian of the fifth largest marine estate on the planet.
Blue Marine and the Great British Oceans Coalition worked with the Ascension Island Government and the UK Government to secure the second largest no-take marine protected area (MPA) in the Atlantic. No-take MPAs are rare zones where the destruction of natural resources is completely prohibited, according to National Geographic.
Today, Ascension Island is being supported today by a £2 million ($2.4 million) endowment fund raised by Blue Marine Foundation, replacing the income the island previously received from the sale of licenses to longlining vessels that fished in Ascension's waters. While the British Government’s “blue belt” program monitors and enforces the waters to ensure no illegal fishing takes place within the exclusive economic zone.
As a result, Ascension Island is becoming a safe haven for the green sea turtle. Out of every thousand turtle hatchlings, only one will make it to adulthood, but those that do can return safely to the island to start families of their own.
You can join the Global Citizen campaign to end extreme poverty and take climate action NOW by taking action here. Become part of a movement powered by citizens around the world who are taking action together with governments, corporations, and philanthropists to make a change.
Global Citizen is grateful to the Blue Marine Foundation for its continuous efforts to protect our planet and the most vulnerable communities impacted by climate change.