Astola Island is located approximately 25 km off the coast of Balochistan Province and, at 6.7 km2, is Pakistan’s largest offshore island. Its beaches provide a nesting ground for Endangered green and Critically Endangered hawksbill turtles and its cliffs and shallow reefs support a large variety of migratory birds. Endemic species, like the Astola saw-scaled viper, live in the undergrowth. While treeless, due to the absence of a fresh water source, the island’s vegetation consists of scrub and large bushes and its marine ecology supports a variety of corals, creating a breeding ground for a vast range of marine species.
Baby green sea turtle © Jamshyd Masud / IUCN
Aichi Biodiversity Target 11, agreed upon by all Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010, specifies that each Party must declare at least 10% of its coastal and marine ecology as marine protected areas by 2020, especially those ecosystems that are highly biodiverse and provide significant services. Further, Sustainable Development Goal 14, agreed upon by the UN General Assembly in September 2015, calls for the conservation and sustainable use of oceans, seas and marine resources for development.
In 2015, the National Coordinating Body of MFF Pakistan, headed by the Pakistan Ministry of Climate Change, constituted a Working Group for identification of potential sites for MPA designation in the country. Subsequently, Pakistan National Committee member Indus Earth submitted a motion calling for the declaration of Astola Island as an MPA, which was adopted at the IUCN World Conservation Congress 2016.
In the following months, MFF and the Pakistan Navy undertook a situational analysis of the island and ensured that local communities and other stakeholders at the grassroots level would not only be included in the process of establishing the new MPA, but also involved in its governance.
© IUCN Pakistan
While hailing the protection of Astola Island as a historic milestone, IUCN Pakistan Representative Mr Mahmood Akhtar Cheema said that this could not have been achieved without the concerted efforts of the Secretary of the Ministry of Climate Change, the Inspector General of Forests and other senior officials under the policy guidance of the Federal Minister of Climate Change, Mr Zahid Hamid.
"Mr Hamid has worked tirelessly to build stakeholder consensus and overcome complex formalities to make this happen and, under his leadership, more MPAs are sure to follow Astola," said Mr Cheema. "The assistance of the Ministry of Defense and the Pakistan Navy, who have been consistently dedicated to marine protection and coastal conservation, has also been invaluable."
Equally appreciated has been the support of the Government of Balochistan, especially the Chief Secretary, Additional Chief Secretary, and the Secretary of the Forest & Wildlife Department and his team, including the Additional Secretary of the Forests and Wildlife Department and the Office of the Chief Conservator of Forests.
Astola is Pakistan's largest offshore island. © IUCN Pakistan