The Astola Island has been designated as Pakistan’s first-ever Marine Protected Area. The notification in this regard has been issued by the Government of Balochistan, today, June 15, 2017.
While hailing it a historic milestone, IUCN Country Representative, Mr. Mahmood Akhtar Cheema said that this could not be achieved without the concerted efforts led by the Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change, the Inspector General Forest and other senior officials under the policy guidance provided by the Federal Minister of Climate Change, Mr. Zahid Hamid, who had put tireless efforts towards building stakeholders consensus and completing volumes of very complex formalities to make this happen. This designation may not have been possible without the support of Government of Balochistan, especially the Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary, and the Secretary Forest & Wildlife Department and his team including the Additional Secretary Forest & Wildlife Department and the office of the Chief Conservator of Forests.
He further said that it is a great achievement being a first major policy step towards protection and conservation of the marine life and under the leadership of the honorable Minister for Climate Change we will soon be able to move get other potential sites designated as marine protected areas in the days to come.
The Astola island is located approximately 25 km off the coast of Balochistan province, and is Pakistan’s largest offshore island spanning 6.7 km2. The island is ecologically important as its beaches provide nesting ground for the endangered green turtle and hawksbill turtle, while also supporting a large variety of migratory birds. The Astola saw-scaled viper is endemic to the island. While treeless, due to the absence of a fresh water source, the island’s vegetation consists of scrubs and large bushes. The island’s marine ecology supports a variety of corals, creating a breeding ground for a vast range of marine species.
The target 11 of Aichi Biodiversity Targets agreed by all Parties to the CBD in 2010 specifies that each Party has to declare at least 10% of its coastal and marine areas as Marine Protected Area, especially the areas of biodiversity significance and ecosystem services. Further, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) agreed by UN General Assembly in September 2015 call for conservation and sustainable use of the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development (SDG 14).
He appreciated the catalytic role played by IUCN Pakistan, and its team, especially the Mangroves for the Future (MFF) programme, for their continuous efforts towards this declaration.
He explained that in 2015, the National Coordinating Body (NCB) of Mangroves for the Future Pakistan headed by the Ministry of Climate Change, Government of Pakistan constituted a Working Group for identification of potential sites for MPA designation in Pakistan. Subsequently, a motion (# 055) submitted by a PNC member (Indus Earth) from Pakistan was adopted at the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016 calling for declaration of Astola Island as MPA in Pakistan.
He also highly appreciated the role of the IUCN-MFF, the Ministry of Climate Change, the Government of Balochistan, Ministry of Defence, Pakistan Navy and other stakeholders have been working together towards having a marine protected area declared in the country.
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