ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has declared the largest offshore island, Jazira Haft Talar, better known as Astola Islanadas a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in a historical first.
The declaration of MPAs is an international obligation of Pakistan under the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Aichi Biodiversity (ABD) Target No. 11 agreed in 2010 which call on member countries to declare at least ten percent of their coastal and marine areas as MPAs, especially the areas of biodiversity significance.
The process to notify Astola as a MPA was initiated a few years ago under the auspices of Mangroves for the Future Programme, a regional grouping of South and Southeast Asian countries which is currently co-chaired by Pakistan.
Federal Minister Climate Change Zahid Hamid spearheaded the process of declaration of MPAs in 2016 after attending The Oceans Conference in Washington at the invitation of then US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Subsequently, the declaration of Astola as a MPA had also been tabled as a national resolution at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Hawaii in September 2016.
In April 2017, the federal minister visited Astola along with Commander Coast Pakistan Navy Rear Admiral Abdul Aleem. He also requested the Chief Minister and government of Balochistan to expedite the declaration of Astola as a MPA.
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 to meet Pakistan’s target of nearly 27,000 sq. km before 2020.
Astola Island is located approximately 25 km off the coast of Pasni, Balochistan. It spans 6.7 sq. km and is Pakistan’s largest offshore island.
The island is ecologically important as the 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 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.