What laws and structures govern the MPA?

Legislation and Governance

Common octopus - Ness Smith
Common octopus - Ness Smith

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To achieve the MPA’s vision and objectives, an effective governance system will need to be put in place supported by legislation where necessary.


In 1978, the Fisheries Limits Ordinance asserted Ascension Island’s claim to the exclusive use of the marine environment out to 200NM around the island. This provides the legal basis for the Ascension Island Government to control activities in these waters and underpins the creation of the MPA.

The MPA was designated by an Order under the National Protected Areas Ordinance, 2003 (NPAO). Amendments to the NPAO and Fisheries (Conservation and Management) Ordinance, 2015, have been introduced to restrict the most damaging activities.

The National Protected Areas Ordinance, 2003, has been amended so that no development can take place anywhere in the MPA unless it is authorised by the Administrator. An assessment of the impact on the MPA must be undertaken for each proposed development and the Administrator must take this assessment and the advice of the Director of Conservation into account when making their decisions. Further amendments to the NPAO grant powers to introduce regulations restricting activities in the MPA and appoint wardens to enforce those regulations.

The Fisheries Conservation and Management Ordinance (2015) has been amended so that large-scale commercial fishing (defined as: extractive fishing or fishing-related operations by any person, the primary purpose of which is the taking of fish to export from Ascension for sale elsewhere, whether any such sale is by or on behalf of that person or by another) is prohibited throughout the MPA.

The Fishery Limits (Licensing of Fishing) (Offshore Zone) Order (2015) has been amended so that licences to fish in the offshore zone, between 12 and 200NM from the island, can only be issued for research activities. The Order already states that all fishing in the offshore zone requires a licence, so restricting the granting of licences to research fishing only means all other forms of fishing are prohibited in this part of the MPA.

This Management Plan has legal status under the NPAO and decisions about the management of the MPA must follow the principles laid out here.

Other relevant domestic legislation

There are also other pieces of domestic legislation that affect how the MPA is managed.

Environment Charter – Ascension signed an Environment Charter in 2001. This contains guiding principles and commitments for developing environmental policies, legislation and standards in order to meet international obligations for biodiversity conservation.

Wildlife Protection Ordinance, 2013 - Lists 70 species including 49 marine species and 11 seabirds that it is an offence to wilfully kill, take, trade or molest. The taking of berried lobster is also prohibited.

Environmental Protection (Overseas Territories) Order (1988) - Prohibits the depositing of substances from vessels or the scuttling of vessels within 12NM of Ascension island unless licensed by the Governor. British flagged vessels or any vessels that have loaded material on Ascension cannot deposit substances or be scuttled in any part of the MPA unless it is carried out under a licence issued by the Governor.

Harbours (Ascension) Ordinance, 2005 - Provides for the regulation, management and control of the harbour area on Ascension (the northwest coast between Catherine Point and Northwest Point) including dredging to maintain access to the pier, the removal of sand from beaches, laying of moorings and registering of boats.

Biosecurity Ordinance, 2020 - Places responsibilities on importers to reduce the risk of introducing non-native species and provides powers to inspect goods coming onto the island and treat or destroy those contaminated with non-native species. All vessels intending to land cargo or passengers on Ascension must meet a specification that includes proof of regular hull anti-fouling and good ballast water management. No ballast water can be discharged from vessels within 12NM of the island.

Inshore Fisheries Legislation - It is anticipated that in 2021 an Inshore Fisheries Order will be introduced under the Fisheries (Conservation and Management) Ordinance, 2015. This is still being developed following recommendations form the Inshore Fisheries Advisory Committee, but is likely to include a register for local fishermen, licence system for visiting fishermen and sports fishing businesses and the power to introduce management measures where monitoring indicates a fish stock is in poor health.

Ascension is party to a number of international agreements that have a bearing on marine management. Responsibility for compliance with these obligations rests with the UK Government.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) has three aims:

1. The conservation of biodiversity

2. The sustainable use of the components of biodiversity

3. The fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilisation of genetic resources

The CBD has set out a 2050 vision of ‘Living in harmony with nature’ and is developing a Global Biodiversity Framework to achieve that vision.

The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species (CMS) aims to conserve terrestrial, marine and avian species throughout their range. The UK ratified the CMS in 1985. Green turtle and hawksbill turtle are listed on Appendix 1 of the convention placing an obligation on Ascension to put in place:

strict protection on them, striving towards strictly protecting the animal, conserving or restoring the places they live, mitigating obstacles to migration and controlling other factors that might endanger them.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) restricts the import, export and trade of listed species including turtles and whales that are known to occur in Ascension’s MPA.

The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is a comprehensive regime of law and order on the world's oceans and seas, establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources. It gives coastal states sovereign rights over their 12NM territorial waters. Coastal states also have certain rights with respect to natural resources and economic activities in their 200NM Exclusive Economic Zone, but requires that other states are given freedom of passage through these waters. It binds states to prevent and control marine pollution and to allow scientific research that is conducted for peaceful means. Agreements under the Convention require states to cooperate on the management of straddling fish stocks and to take action to prevent illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in their waters.

International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL) aims to minimise pollution of the oceans caused by dumping, oil and air pollution. All vessels registered to nations that are signatories to MARPOL are subject to its requirements regardless of where they sail. Compliance with the regulations is the responsibility of flag states.

International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT) is the regional fisheries management organisation responsible for regulating the Atlantic tuna fishery. Ascension has no registered vessels and no longer licenses foreign-flagged commercial fishing vessels. However, it does still have obligations as a coastal state to regulate and report on recreational and sports fisheries. ICCAT regulations govern the tuna fishery in the high seas beyond Ascension’s MPA.

Enforcement action will always be carried out with proportionality, consistency and accountability to ensure it is fair and seen to be fair. An information campaign and continued public engagement will be carried out to ensure a high level of understanding of legislation relevant to the MPA amongst the island population, visitors and those passing through the MPA.

In carrying out any enforcement, the aims are:

  • To change behaviour
  • To deter non-compliance
  • To limit any financial or other benefit from non-compliance
  • To reassure those who are complying
  • To impose sanctions either domestically or through a vessel’s flag state that are proportionate to the offence
  • To pursue prosecutions for very serious and deliberate non-compliance or repeated non-compliance

Those carrying out enforcement action will be authorised to do so under the relevant Ascension legislation.

Warranted Office

Other positions with same powers


Powers relevant to MPA

Reserve Wardens

Police Officers

National Protected Areas Ordinance (2013)

Enforce restriction on development in the MPA and any future MPA Regulations

Fishery Protection Officers

Police Officers

Customs Officers

Harbour Master

Commissioned officer in the Royal Navy, Army or RAF

Fisheries (Conservation and Management) Ordinance (2015)

Board vessels

Inspect vessels

Detain vessels

Seize fishing gear and fish

Biosecurity Officers

Police Officers

Biosecurity Ordnance (2020)

Issue import licences

Board vessels

Inspect cargo

Issue or refuse biosecurity import clearance

Require or carry out treatments where there is a biosecurity risk

Harbour Master

Assistant Harbour Master

Harbours Ordinance (2005)

Within a designated harbour can:

Direct vessels

Board vessels

Remove wrecks and obstructions

In most cases enforcement will be carried out on Ascension using local legislation. However, for breaches of the regulations regarding offshore fishing, the most effective means of enforcement will be through the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna and the flag state of the offending vessel. This will be coordinated by the Blue Belt Surveillance and Intelligence Hub and more details of how such enforcement would be undertaken are provided in the Offshore Fisheries Compliance and Enforcement Strategy.

Boatswainbird View - Kirsty Jones
Boatswainbird View - Kirsty Jones


The Ascension Island MPA will be governed according to the following principles:

Evidence-based - We will make all decisions based on the best available information. We will endeavour through the Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Strategy to address knowledge gaps and evaluate management effectiveness to improve the quality of our actions.

This will be achieved by monitoring the outcomes of our actions and applying an adaptive management approach that assesses both the success of implementation and progress against the MPA objectives.

Transparent - We will share the information we have, the decisions we make and the processes by which we make them in a form that is accessible to the people of Ascension and the global community.

This will be achieved through the publication of the MPA Management Plan, Annual Workplans, monitoring data and effectiveness reviews as well as an active Public Engagement Strategy. Research outcomes will be shared with the scientific community through peer-reviewed publications and more widely with the general public through a variety of engaging means. There will be a presumption in favour of sharing data collected in the MPA to encourage trust, collaboration and advance global knowledge.

Accountable - We welcome scrutiny and oversight of our decisions to ensure they are consistent with the objectives of the MPA.

This will be achieved through public consultation on the drafting and review of the MPA Management Plan and the requirement for the Management Plan and Annual workplan to be approved by elected members of the Ascension Island Council. The MPA Steering Group, Inshore Fisheries Advisory Committee, Youth Committee and Scientific Advisory Committee will provide oversight and ensure the MPA is achieving its objectives and following international best practice.

The role of the MPA Management Authority will be undertaken by the Ascension Island Government, principally through a dedicated team within its Conservation and Fisheries Directorate External oversight and support will be provided by the elected members of the Ascension Island Council, the MPA Steering Group, Inshore Fisheries Advisory Committee, MPA Youth Committee an independent Scientific Advisory Committee and the UK Government’s Blue Belt Programme.

Adoption of the MPA Management Plan after every five year review as well as any changes to the MPA legislation will require approval from the Governor of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha following a recommendation from the Ascension Island Council.

Most core management activities will be delivered by staff based on Ascension. The exception is compliance and enforcement of offshore fisheries regulations, which will be undertaken by the Blue Belt Surveillance and Intelligence Management Hub housed with the UK’s Marine Management Organisation.

The diagram below explains how the MPA will be managed by highlighting the key documents that will guide all management activity and identifying who will be involved in approving and reviewing those documents.



Role in MPA management

AIG Conservation and Fisheries Directorate (AIGCFD)

Directorate within AIG responsible for management of all marine and terrestrial conservation. The MPA team consists of the Director of Conservation and Fisheries, three Marine Scientists, a specialist seabird scientist and a conservation field assistant. Monitoring of the green turtle population is carried out by a volunteer coordinator and interns based within AIGCFD.

  • Develop Management Plan and associated strategies
  • Administration of MPA
  • Delivery of MPA management actions, monitoring and research
  • Raise funds for MPA activities

Blue Belt Programme

UK Government Programme to establish sustainable marine management around the UK Overseas Territories. Programme is led by FCO with delivery split between two UK-based government agencies - Cefas and MMO

  • Provide core funding for the Ascension MPA
  • Input into preparation of Management Plan and Annual Workplan
  • Coordinate initiatives across all Overseas Territories involved in the Blue Belt
  • Lead on offshore fisheries surveillance, compliance and enforcement issues through the BBSIH

Ascension Island Council (AIC)

The Council is made up of five or seven elected members who serve three year terms. The Council makes formal recommendations to the Governor on issues of policy covering all aspects of governance on Ascension.

  • Input into preparation of Management Plan and Annual Work plan
  • AIC recommends whether to approve the MPA Management Plan to the Governor at each five year review
  • AIC approval required for Annual Work plan
  • AIC recommendation required for any changes to legislation

MPA Steering Group

Group established on Ascension to provide recommendations on all issues related to management of the MPA. Made up of volunteers living on Ascension. It has no legal status, but provides non-binding advice to AIGCFD and the Ascension Island Council.

  • Input into preparation of Management Plan and Annual Work plan
  • Identify new opportunities to develop the MPA
  • Collect and represent the views of the island community on MPA management

MPA Youth Committee

The Youth Committee is made up of up to eight people living on Ascension under the age of 18 facilitated by AIGCFD staff. It provides non-binding advice to AIGCFD and helps to develop and promote the MPA.

  • Input into preparation of Management Plan and Annual Work plan
  • Identify new opportunities to develop the MPA and new areas for research
  • Collect and represent the views of young people on Ascension
  • Form links with young people concerned about marine conservation

Inshore Fisheries Advisory Committee (IFAC)

Group established on Ascension to advise on the management of inshore fisheries. Made up of volunteers from the local fishing community facilitated by AIGCFD marine scientists. It has no legal status, but provides non-binding advice to the Ascension Island Council.

  • Input into preparation of Management Plan, Annual Workplan and monitoring strategy
  • Provide AIC with recommendations for changes to regulations or management actions in inshore areas
  • Facilitate data collection from the recreational fishery

Scientific Advisory Committee

Academics and experts with relevant experience. The Committee will be made up of eight people including one representative from CEFAS and one from MMO.

  • Aid in the preparation of the Research and Monitoring Strategy
  • Input into the preparation of the Management Plan
  • Conduct an annual review of research and monitoring activity



MPA Management Plan

Provides overview of the objectives of the MPA, threats to achieving those objectives and how the MPA will be managed to address those threats. It has legal status and lays out the policy AIG must follow in managing the MPA. The Management Plan requires approval from the Governor following a recommendation from the Ascension Island Council after each five year review.

MPA Work plan

The annual Work Plan derived each year from the Management Plan sets out what actions will be undertaken in the following 12 months. The Work Plan will cover the period 1st April to 31st March each year.

Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Strategy

Sets out how performance against the MPA objectives will be monitored and the research priorities for improving understanding of the MPA. The strategy will be prepared in consultation with the Scientific Advisory Committee.

Annual Monitoring Plan

The Annual Monitoring Plan derived each year from the Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Strategy sets out what monitoring actions will be undertaken in the following 12 months. The plan will be approved each year by the Scientific Advisory Committee.

Associated Strategies

Fisheries Compliance and Enforcement Strategy

Sets out how compliance with regulations relating to offshore fishing will be monitored and enforced. Prepared by MMO and reviewed every three years.

Pollution Control Strategy

Provides detailed assessment of the threat pollution poses to the MPA objectives and the regulations, policies and actions taken to mitigate those threats.

Biosecurity Strategy

Provides detailed assessment of the threat non-native species pose to the MPA objectives and the regulations, policies and actions taken to mitigate those threats.

Public Engagement Strategy

Sets out the audiences we would like the MPA to reach and the methods that will be used to engage them. It includes encouraging involvement of the Ascension community in governance structures and informing the global public of the MPA’s work.

Financial Strategy

Sets out the MPA’s predicted expenditure over the next five years and identifies secured and potential funding sources.

Climate Change Strategy

Will be developed in the first year following Management Plan implementation to provide a detailed assessment of the threats posed to the MPA by climate change and identify priorities for action and research.

Tourism Strategy

Will be developed following the outcome of the ‘Future of Ascension’ discussions to maximise the potential and limit the impact of tourists on the MPA consistent with the future governance model chosen for Ascension.

This MPA Management Plan describes what we hope to achieve over its five year lifespan, but we will need to prioritise and stage the actions it contains in order to produce an Annual Workplan that will define our activities each year. Alongside this, we will create an Annual Monitoring Plan derived from the Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Strategy that will ensure we collect the data necessary to measure management effectiveness. These annual plans will be created by AIGCFD with input from the Blue Belt Programme, Scientific Advisory Committee and Inshore Fisheries Advisory Committee. The annual plans will require approval from the Ascension Island Council before being adopted.

Implementation of the Annual Work Plan and Monitoring Plan will be undertaken by AIGCFD or external collaborators and contractors as appropriate. Responsibility for delivering the Annual Work Plan will rest with AIGCFD.

Financial governance

The AIG Director of Conservation and Fisheries will act as the accounting officer for all funding and expenditure linked to the MPA. Individual budgets will be established for the different funding streams and projects grants to allow them to be tracked and reported independently. All payments will be administered through AIG’s bank account by the AIG Finance Department and subject to annual external audit. As a minimum, all Ascension financial regulations and AIG financial policies (on issues such as procurement and tendering) will be followed. Additional requirement will be agreed as necessary between AIG and external funding providers.

Assessment of new proposals

Regulations and management measures have been designed to address the current pressures, but new proposals with the potential to damage the MPA will arise over its lifetime. These will have to be assessed on a case by case basis, but the principles set out below will ensure those assessments are carried out consistently and in line with the values described in this management plan.


Development is defined as any change in use of land, the erection of any structure, the laying of underground cables or pipework and the carrying out of any drainage, dredging or sewerage scheme. The National Protected Areas Ordinance states that development can only take place in the MPA with the permission of the Administrator who will make determinations based on the following principles:

  • There is a presumption against development within the MPA and the onus will be on the proposer to demonstrate that the development will not conflict with the MPA objectives through an Environmental Impact Assessment.
  • The Administrator will determine whether the development is likely to have a significant effect on the MPA after taking advice from the Director of Conservation and Fisheries.
  • Where there is doubt or a lack of evidence, the precautionary principle will be applied and the development will not be permitted.
  • Developments with the potential to damage the MPA can be permitted in the small number of cases where the Administrator determines it is necessary for the island’s military mission or critical functions, and, after taking advice from the Director of Conservation and Fisheries, that all alternative options have been considered and all reasonable mitigations put in place.


Research is defined as a detailed study of a subject using scientific methods in order to discover or revise facts.

Research is needed to improve and inform management, and to realise the potential global benefits of the MPA, but we recognise that some research could also damage the MPA if not carried out sensitively. All research in the MPA must be carried out under a permit approved by the Director of Conservation and Fisheries or by the Administrator where a species listed in the Wildlife Protection Ordinance would be affected. Their decision to grant a permit will be based on the following principles:

  • The impact of proposed research on features of the MPA will be assessed and permission will only be granted where the benefits to the Ascension MPA outweigh any negative effects. These benefits may not be immediate, but they must be specific and locally applicable.
  • Research priorities identified in the MPA Monitoring, Evaluation and Research Strategy will be assumed to provide greater benefit to the MPA.
  • All researchers must agree to share their data with AIGCFD and provide copies of all published work that arises from it.

The Ascension Island MPA Management Plan sits within the context of wider conservation planning and management strategies on Ascension and in the UK Overseas Territories. The MPA Management Plan has been designed to be consistent with these strategies to ensure there is no conflict for those implementing them and strengthen support for achieving the shared objectives.

  • Ascension Island National Biodiversity Action Plan (NBAP) - The work of AIGCFD is underpinned by the NBAP, which was created in 2015 and covers marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Specific action plans have been developed for 18 species and three habitats based on a threat analysis; of these, eight Species Action Plans and two Habitat Action Plans relate to the marine environment. The threat analysis and proposed actions for the marine species and habitats included in the NBAP have been used as part of the MPA Management Plan to avoid duplication or inconsistencies. The intention is for the MPA Management Plan to be incorporated into the NBAP when it is next reviewed.
  • The UK Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan (2018) sets out a plan of government action to help the natural world regain and retain good health. It has a wide scope, but makes particular mention of marine protection in the Overseas Territories (OTs):

Working with our OTs we will continue the implementation of the Blue Belt Programme, including supporting efficient monitoring and enforcement of large scale protected areas. With their vast marine areas, the OTs offer an opportunity to lead the world in marine protection. The Blue Belt of marine protection around our OTs, conserves habitats and the species they support, increases resilience to long-term pressures such as climate change and damaging human activities in surrounding areas, and supports sustainable economic development for the long term.

The creation of the Ascension Island MPA and its effective management through this Management Plan will help deliver this objective. The long-term support from the UK Government promised in the strategy will be vital to the success of the MPA.

  • The Global Ocean Alliance was founded by the UK Government in 2019 and is calling for at least 30% of the world’s oceans to be included in Marine Protected Areas by 2030. By designating 100% of its waters as an MPA, Ascension is providing an example to other countries and making a significant contribution to the overall global target.
  • The UK Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy (2009) was developed ‘to enable the UK and Territory Government to meet their international obligations for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity in the Overseas Territories.’ One of five strategic priorities is developing ecosystem-based initiative for the conservation and sustainable use of the marine environment. This Management Plan delivers this priority by laying the foundation for sustainable management of Ascension’s waters at an ecosystem level.