In a historic first, Pakistan’s largest offshore island, Jazira Haft Talar, better known as Astola Island has been declared as a Marine Protected Area (MPA) on June 15, 2017.
Astola Island is located approximately 25 km off the coast of Pasni, Balochistan province. Spanning 6.7 km, it is Pakistan’s largest offshore island. The island is ecologically important as its beaches provide nesting ground for the endangered green turtle and hawks-bill turtle, while also supporting a large variety of migratory birds. The Astola saw-scaled viper is endemic to the island.
While being treeless, due to the absence of a freshwater 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 fora vast range of marine species.
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The declaration of MPAs is an international obligation of the Federal Government under the Convention on Biological Diversity and its Aichi Biodiversity (ABD) Target No. 11. Agreed in 2010, the ABDs call for member countries to declare at least 10% of their coastal and marine areas as MPAs, especially the areas of biodiversity significance. The process to notify Astola as a MPA has been initiated a few years ago under the auspices of Mangroves for the Future Programme, a regional grouping of South and Southeast Asian countries of which Pakistan is currently the co-chair.
The Federal Minister Climate Change, Honorable Zahid Hamid, had undertaken to spearhead the process of declaration of MPAs in 2016 after attending The Oceans Conference in Washington at the invitation of outgoing US Secretary of State Mr. John Kerry. Subsequently, this declaration of Astola as a MPA had also been tabled as a national resolution at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii (September 2016). In April 2017, Minister Zahid Hamid visited Astola along with Commander Coast, Pakistan Navy, Rear Admiral Abdul Aleem. He also undertook a strong personal effort in requesting the Chief Minister and Government of Balochistan to expedite the declaration of Astola as MPA.
This declaration has come about as a result of the concerted efforts led by Federal Minister Mr. Zahid Hamid and very active collaboration of the Government of Balochistan and its Forest and Wildlife Department. Additional impetus and support have been provided by the Ministry of Defence, Pakistan Navy, IUCN, WWF Pakistan and other members of Mangroves for the Future Programme, Pakistan.
The Federal minister has expressed his appreciation for all the many persons associated with this landmark declaration, especially, the Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary, and Secretary Forest & Wildlife Department, Balochistan, Commander Coast, Pakistan Navy, Ministry of Defence and IUCN. He also said, that efforts are underway to declare the Indus Canyon (located where the Indus delta meets the continental shelf) and several other sites including Churna Island and Miani Hor, as MPAs, thus meeting Pakistan’s target of nearly 27,000 km2 well before 2020.
The Ministry of Climate Change will now be assisting in developing a management plan for the Astola MPA.