Discovering the UK Overseas Territories – Environment

The UK’s Overseas Territories are environmental superpowers and can be considered as some of the most beautiful and diverse areas in the world. Their environments range from the ice of the Antarctic to rainforests in the Caribbean and tropical Islands in the Pacific.

The responsibility of these environments is devolved to the Overseas Territories governments, and it is a duty that is taken very seriously. As a result, the Overseas Territories are increasingly seen as leaders in environmental protection.

Approximately 44% of land, almost 800km², in the Turks and Caicos Islands is protected by nature reserves, national parks and historical sites. This is due to the expansion of the Ramsar Conservation site south of North Caicos, Middle Caicos and East Caicos. The site provides important feeding areas for water birds, habitat for the endangered sea turtle, and nursery grounds for fish. Flamingos feed and breed in the salt ponds and offshore limestone islands act as refuges for iguanas.

The Cayman Islands has led the world in protecting marine habitats with the first marine protected areas in this Overseas Territory being designated almost 40 years ago. Currently, an impressive 48% of nearshore coastal waters are protected through an enhanced marine protected area network.

In Gibraltar, its Upper Rock Nature Reserve covers 40% of the Territory’s land area and is a protected nature reserve. In addition, its Botanic Gardens, the Alameda, is home to the Wildlife Conservation Park which hosts a collection of exotic and native animals for rescue and conservation purposes.

Gorham’s Cave, found in Gibraltar, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to it being the home of Neanderthals 10,000 years ago.

Bermuda has become synonymous with its pink sand beaches, which are a result of Foraminifera, which are tiny single-celled organisms that live in the reefs encircling the Territory’s waters. Bermuda, despite its small physical size of 54km², has custody of over 450,000km² of the Atlantic Ocean, which includes coastal environments, coral reefs, and surrounding ocean. These waters are biologically rich, containing priceless marine cultural heritage, sources of food and economic opportunities for Bermudians, and supporting local and touristic recreational activities.

Bermuda’s land mass was formed approximately 30 million years ago through underwater volcanic eruption, where the magma settled and cooled on the sea’s surface.

When Hurricane Irma hit the British Virgin Islands in September 2017, it had sustained winds of 185 mph for 37 hrs, making it the longest and most intense tropical cyclone on record. This experience of extreme hurricane events in the Caribbean provided clear evidence of the functional, humanitarian and economic value of the natural environment in mitigating inland flooding and coastal zone storm surges. These events highlighted the importance of not only protecting coastal and inland vegetation but also actively intervening to restore key habitats. This is particularly true of coastal mangrove systems that reduce the impacts of hurricane-generated storm surges.

Access to environmental funding is critical for the Overseas Territories. This has become increasingly challenging following the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union as the Overseas Territories are now lock out of certain funding streams. To date, no comprehensive plan of alternative funding has been put in place by the UK.

“Turning the tide on plastic pollution: Ascension and St Helena” is a Darwin Plus and John Ellerman Foundation funded project working to address the ways in which plastic pollution is impacting the marine environment of both islands by identifying its sources and developing appropriate solutions.

Quiz answer: C. 500